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This is part of the Family Travel Series on Choosing a Cruise by TPG Director of Operations, Danielle. Other posts include: Choosing a Cruise While Maximizing Points, Is the Disney Credit Card Worth It For A Cruise?, How to Choose a Cruise Based on Points, Using Frequent Flyer Miles for Cruise Flights, How to Get a Passport for Your Child and Cruising – Anchors Aweigh.
Although it was no small feat, finding and booking the airline tickets and choosing our cruise was tantamount to securing the venue for a wedding; the big stuff might be out of the way, but the outstanding details could just as easily cause our vacation to sink or swim. So this post will be devoted to one aspect of the prepwork we are currently going through to hopefully give our trip the best chance at smooth sailing; the procedure for obtaining passports for the kids.
Whether or not our young children would need passports was an obvious concern from the get-go since this was their first jaunt out of the country. A quick search of the cruiseline’s website actually yielded a surprising answer: No, passports were not necessary. But were they recommended? Yes. So, technically, a “closed loop” (beginning and ending in the same US city) voyage only requires a US citizen to provide their birth certificate and valid government issued ID to embark (just the birth certificate will do for minors). HOWEVER, air travel to and from a foreign country is never permitted without a passport. So, worst case scenario, if while we are in Jamaica we needed to fly home we would be up a creek without those precious little blue books. And since I’m a worst-case scenario worrier, that meant that with only a few weeks till we were scheduled to leave, I started the tedious (and relatively expensive) task of applying for passports for my two toddlers.
What you will need to do/bring:
Person: Children (minors under the age of 16) must be presented in person to the passport agency or acceptance facility – a Google search will quickly help you find the place nearest you that will accept your application. We went to a nearby post office. Caution: not every post office will process passports and most require appointments so check first (though we didn’t have trouble getting a “next day” appointment).
Parents: Both parents or guardians must accompany the child(ren). If one parents cannot be present, then they must provide notarized written consent (less than 3 months old) giving their express permission for the issuance of a passport. Use the DS-3053 form and don’t forget a copy of both sides of the non-applying parent or guardian license/ID. Certificate of death or primary evidence of sole authority is also accepted and there is a form for special circumstances when it is not possible for other guardian to be present or give permission.
Photos: We went to CVS for our passport photos and it was fairly painless – most stores (Walgreens, Walmart, etc) with a photo printing lab will be able to help you out, but call ahead to make sure. We did go to our local Target first (and I had called and was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem over the phone) and then were turned down. At CVS the pictures cost about $9.99 each and we received two versions. Passport photos must be a full color view of the front of the face and 2 x 2. Some passport agencies/acceptance facilities are equipped to take passport photos – check ahead of time.
Paperwork: Fill out the DS-11 form entirely before you arrive. Bring proof of your child’s citizenship and your relationship with the child (birth certificate listing you as parents). The passport office will require originals that will later be returned to you with the passport. I brought along my munchkin’s social security cards too and though they weren’t needed, you do have to list their ss #s on the application so be sure to dig those out. As I already mentioned, you will need to bring your own license/identification as well.
Payment: Make sure to know what methods of payment the facility will accept. Even though the travel.state.gov website outlines the different options you should have (credit card, money order, cash, check), the post office we went to only accepted personal checks to cover the fees – even the processing fee paid to the office itself. You will also be writing two checks so bring a couple – one to the Department of the State that will be sent along with the application and the other payment goes to the passport agency or acceptance facility. A passport for a minor is $80 plus a $25 “processing fee” (what is paid to the post office or courthouse). I ended up paying $95 each because I inadvertently selected for KK and Con to receive both a passport card and a passport book (I didn’t realize I’d checked both boxes) plus the processing fee. Lesson? I didn’t need to get both kids a passport card AND a passport book – though now I’ve become educated on the difference. Learn something new everyday.
Panic: Okay, okay. This is definitely something you shouldn’t bring with you when applying for a passport. But, we couldn’t help but be a little anxious since we were less than 3 weeks our from our travel dates when we applied. Since we were turning in the kids’ birth certificates with the application we really wouldn’t have been in good shape if the whole package didn’t come back before we were boarding. So we bit the bullet and paid the extra fees to have the passports expedited in order to ensure that they would arrive in a timely fashion. The Department of State website indicates that this is a $60 fee per application (plus overnight postal fees), but to our surprise the postal worker actually said they would only charge us one express fee since we were sending the paperwork for both our children together. While I’m not sure what the “official” rule is about this, I do know that I was happy to save the $60 and both passports arrived within the ten day window! Kinda made up for the fact that I pointlessly wasted 30 bucks ordering passport cards for my kids.
In a hurry? If you really need to expedite the process, I’d recommend using a Visa or Passport agency. TPG has used Allied Passport & Visa on numerous occasions and he’s always had a great experience and quick turnaround.
Note: Passports for minors are only valid for 5 years from date of issuance.
So now all four of us are equipped with passports, plane tickets, and a place to stay on the Carnival Destiny … what else, knowledgeable readers, should we be packing? Some of you have already offered a few great tips … nightlight, powercord, etc. Anything else?