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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: Good luck – and good planning – when you apply for a passport

If you need to get a passport for yourself, good luck! The process is driven by detailed protocols, documents, applications and image requirements. If your kids need passports, well . . . my heart goes out to you! You need all of the above. . . plus both birth parents need to be present for processing, at the same time and location, with the kid(s), documents, applications, photos, etc. You’ll also need to know what you’re doing ahead of time.

Research: Begin at travel.state.gov, where you’ll find the necessary details for getting passports for minors. Be prepared to spend some time and either print out the details, lists of documents, requirements and applications – or take some old-fashioned notes. Rules vary by age. If your kids are 15 or 16, things work a bit differently than if they are 14 or under. If you have a blended family with a birth parent living elsewhere, you’re going to need extra time and a lot of planning – especially if all of the parents/stepparents have a less-than ideal ability to get along. If you are one the many, many two-income families with
complicated work schedules and kids in school, you might need to take time off from work and pull the kids out of school to get the process completed. Of course, two basic items are needed right from the get-go: certified copies of birth certificates (originals with raised seals – faxes and emailed copies don’t cut it), and Social Security numbers. If you don’t already have these, get on it! Start by contacting the vital records department of the state and/or hospital where your kids were born.

Smile! Another essential but often troublesome step is securing passport photos. Sounds easy. Heck, you see signs everywhere from places like FedEx and CVS to AAA and post offices, and almost everybody has a digital camera and color printer. Again, there are very detailed requirements for size, quality, composition and more. Go back to travel.state.gov for four-plus pages of examples on acceptable and not acceptable photos. My advice is to forget doing it yourself and to pay a pro to get it done. Many (but not all) post offices have cameras
and charge about $15 for the required two identical shots – and most businesses who provide the service charge about the same. If you belong to AAA (Fort Eddy Plaza, 228-0301, aaanne.com) and want to save a buck or several, they charge $7.50 for members and $15 for nonmembers. AAA can also save time – they get it right the first time so consistently that the post office often recommends you start there.

End game: So now you’ve assembled all the documents, have your photos and completely filled out the applications. Now what? In the old days, the Concord post office (18 Loudon Road, 225-0003) had a staff that manned the passport room (to the left as you’re standing in line for the counter) on a regular basis. That went the way of budget cuts long ago. Current hours are Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when you can stand in line and wait for someone at the counter to help. Most, but not all, of the counter staff is trained to take pictures and process passports. Saturday hours for passports are 9 a.m. to noon, but by appointment only.
Stop by or call to set up an appointment, but a word of warning – Saturdays are
often booked three weeks out, and you’ll need about 15 minutes per person, including kids. Options are the post offices in Contoocook (129 Park Ave., 746-3980) or Henniker (10 Post Office Place, 428-3285), but call first, especially if you are expecting photo service. Lastly, use a traceable delivery service and a sturdy and secure envelope to mail your hard work!

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)

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