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Budget more time and money for passports
As you're budgeting for your trip abroad, add more money to the line marked "passport."
The price of a passport increased last summer. First-time applicants older than 16 will pay $85, and those younger than 16 will pay $70. The new totals include a $30 "execution fee." You should receive your passport in about six weeks.
If you're in a hurry for your official documents, tack an extra $60 onto the total, up from $35 (but not including express postage) for the cost of "expedited service." Your passport should arrive in a couple of weeks.
The price increase stems partly from costly technical changes in the documents. Photographs on new passports are now digitized onto the page, making them more difficult to tamper with.
Because passports may take longer to arrive during the busy summer season, it's the first task you should attend to, not the last. You'll need to make sure you have the right forms and materials.
Here's how to navigate the passport application procedure for adults:
: Begin with the correct form. DS-11 is for those who do not have a passport and must apply in person. DS-82 is a renewal form and can be handled by mail. The cost is $55.
You can find these and other forms at http://www.travel.state.gov or at "passport acceptance facilities," such as the post office, some public libraries, courthouses and local government offices. (The Web site will give you a list that's appropriate for any ZIP Code you enter.) Some travel agents also carry the forms.
Children younger than 16 also use DS-11; there's a host of regulations governing young travelers, especially if one parent has sole custody. Check the Web site for information.
: Next, you'll need proof of U.S. citizenship. An old passport or a certified birth certificate are among the documents that prove citizenship.
If you are foreign born, you will need a naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship or a consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth.
: Take proof of identity: a driver's license, government or military ID, an old passport or naturalization or citizenship papers. (A Social Security card is not acceptable for identification, although you will need your number.) If none of those is available, you'll need someone to vouch for you, and, of course, there's a form to fill out.
: Obtain two identical 2-inch-square photographs shot within the last six months. Your face from the bottom of your chin to the top of your head must be from 1 to 1 3/8 inches. The idea is to see you, so the photos must be full face and sans hats or dark glasses. Your best bet is to have a professional familiar with the regulations shoot your photo.
: Call the nearest passport acceptance center for an appointment if you are applying in person. For expedited service you must go to the Federal Building, 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90024-3615. The appointment number is (310) 575-5700.
Some private agencies will help you get a passport in a hurry, although the fees can run as much as $150.
Most are legitimate businesses, but, says Barbara Brophy, customer service manager for the Los Angeles Passport Agency, "make sure you are dealing with a reputable busi-ness," just as you would in any transaction. "The businesses sometimes make promises that are difficult to keep," she says, noting that such organizations are private and not subject to regulation.
These services also can help you obtain visas. To find out whether you need a visa, check with your travel agent or consult the consular office of your destination.
Or check http://www.travel.state .gov/foreignentryreqs.html. The publication "Foreign Entry Requirements" may be ordered for $2.75, which includes postage, from Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; (202) 512-1800, http://bookstore.gpo.gov.