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United States passports are passports issued to citizens and U.S. nationals of the United States of America. They are issued exclusively by the U.S. Department of State.Besides passports (in booklet form), limited use passport cards are issued by the same organization subject to the same requirements. It is unlawful for U.S. citizens to enter or exit the United States without a valid U.S. passport or Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative-compliant passport-replacement document, though there are many exceptions,waivers are generally granted for U.S. citizens returning without a passport, and the exit requirement is not enforced.
U.S. passport booklets are valid for travel by Americans to certain countries and/or for certain purposes though it may require a visa and the U.S. itself restricts its nationals from traveling to or engaging in commercial transactions in certain countries. They conform with recommended standards (i.e., size, composition, layout, technology) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).There are five types of passport booklets; as well, the Department of State has issued only biometric passports as standard since August 2007, though non-biometric passports remained valid until their expiration dates. United States passports are property of the United States and must be returned to the US Government upon demand.
By law, a valid unexpired U.S. passport (or passport card) is conclusive (and not just prima facie) proof of U.S. citizenship, and has the same force and effect as proof of United States citizenship as certificates of naturalization or of citizenship, if issued to a U.S. citizen for the full period allowed by law.U.S. law does not prohibit U.S. citizens from holding passports of other countries, though they are required to use their U.S. passport to enter and leave the U.S.
Citizens and non-citizen nationals
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States …” Under this provision, “United States” means the 50 states and the District of Columbia only
By acts of Congress, every person born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands is a United States citizen by birth. Also, every person born in the former Panama Canal Zone whose father or mother (or both) was a citizen is a United States citizen by birth
Every citizen is a national of the United States, but not every national is a citizen. There is a small class of American Samoans, born in American Samoa, including Swains Island, who are nationals but not citizens of the United States This is because people born in American Samoa are not automatically granted US citizenship by birth. See Passport message, below.
United States law permits dual nationality.Consequently, it is permissible to have and use a foreign passport. However, U.S. citizens are required to use a U.S. passport when leaving or entering the United States.This requirement extends to a U.S. citizen who is a dual national.
Separate passports are issued to U.S. citizens on official business, and to diplomats, a process followed by all countries. The United Nations laissez-passer is a similar document issued by that international organization.
Passport in lieu of certificate of non-citizenship nationality
Few requests for certificates of non-citizenship nationality are made to the Department of State, which are issuable by the department. Production of a limited number of certificates would be costly, which if produced certificates would have to meet stringent security standards. Due to this, the Department of State chooses not to issue certificates of non-citizen nationality. As an alternative, they choose to issues passports to non-citizen nationals. The issued passport certifies the status of a non-citizen national.The certification is in the form of “U.S. National” instead of “USA” on the front of the passport card, or an endorsement in the passport book: “The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen.”
An application is required for the issuance of a passport.If a fugitive being extradited to the United States refuses to sign a passport application, the consular officer can sign it “without recourse.
An application for a United States passport made abroad is forwarded by a U.S. embassy or consulate to Passport Services for processing in the United States. The resulting passport is sent to the embassy or consulate for issuance to the applicant. An emergency passport is issuable by the embassy or consulate. Regular issuance takes approximately 4–6 weeks.As per Haig v. Agee, the Presidential administration may deny or revoke passports for foreign policy or national security reasons at any time.
Places where a U.S. passport may be applied for include post offices and libraries.
- The applicant has never been issued a U.S. passport
- The applicant is under age 16
- The applicant was under age 16 when upon the issuance of the applicants previous passport
- The applicant’s recent U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago
- The applicant’s most recent U.S. passport was lost or stolen
- The applicant’s name has changed since the applicant’s U.S. passport was issued and the applicant is unable to legally document the change of name
A traveller needs to go in person, and pay an extra $25. In addition, the first time an applicant applies for a passport in reassigned gender must also use a Form DS-11.
The applicant’s most recent U.S. passport:
- Is undamaged and can be submitted with your application
- Was issued when the applicant was age 16 or older
- Was issued within the last 15 years
- Was issued in the applicant’s current name or the applicant can legally document a change of name
The advantage of the renewal form is a traveller can mail in the form, and avoid paying an extra $25.
Lost or stolen passport requires DS64 in addition to DS11 only if the lost passport is valid due to the second passport rule:
More than one valid United States passport of the same type may not be held, except if authorized by the Department of State.
It is routine for the Department of State to authorize a holder of a regular passport to hold, in addition, a diplomatic passport or an official passport or a no-fee passport.
One circumstance which may call for issuance of a second passport of a particular type is a prolonged visa-processing delay. Another is safety or security, such as travel between Israel and a country which refuses to grant entry to a person with a passport which indicates travel to Israel. The period of validity of a second passport issued under either circumstance is generally 4 years from the date of issue.
Those who need a second identification document in addition to the U.S. passport may hold a U.S. passport card. This passport card is used by U.S. citizens living abroad when they need to renew their regular passport book, renew their residency permit or apply for a visa – in other words, when they cannot show their regular passport yet are required by local law to carry valid identification.
- in-state valid photo ID
- birth certificate or naturalization certificate
- 2×2 photo
Passport photo requirements are very specific.Official U.S. state department photographic guidelines are available online.
- 2 in × 2 in (5.1 cm × 5.1 cm)
- The height of the head (top of hair to bottom of chin) should measure 1 to 1 3⁄8 inches (25 to 35 mm)
- Eye height is between 1 1⁄8 to 1 3⁄8 inches (29 to 35 mm) from the bottom of the photo
- Front view, full face, open eyes, closed mouth, and neutral expression
- Full head from top of hair to shoulders
- Plain white or off-white background
- No shadows on face or in background
- No sunglasses (unless medically necessary). As of November 1, 2016, the wear of eyeglasses in U.S. passport photos is not allowed.
- No hat or head covering (unless for religious purposes; religious head covering must not obscure hairline)
- Normal contrast and lighting
Fees for applying vary based on whether or not an applicant is applying for a new passport or they are renewing an expiring passport. Fees also vary depending on whether an applicant is under the age of 16.
First-time adult applicants are charged $110 per passport book and $30 per passport card. Additionally, a $25 execution fee is charged per transaction, but only for first applications and not for renewals. This means that if a person were to apply for the passport book and card simultaneously on the same application, he or she would pay only one execution fee.
All minor applicants are considered first-time applicants until they reach age 16. Minor applicants pay an $80 application fee for the passport book and a $15 application fee for the passport card. The same $25 execution fee is charged per application.
Adults wishing to renew their passports may do so up to five years after expiration at a cost of $110 for the passport book and $30 for the passport card. Passports for minors under age 16 cannot be renewed.
Special renewal rules
If a person is already in possession of a passport book and would like a passport card additionally (or vice versa), they may submit their currently valid passport book or card as evidence of citizenship and apply for a renewal to avoid paying the $25 execution fee. However, if the passport book or card holder is unable or unwilling to relinquish their currently valid passport for the duration of the processing, they may submit other primary evidence of citizenship, such as a U.S. birth certificate or naturalization certificate, and apply as a first time applicant, paying the execution fee and submitting a written explanation as to why they are applying in this manner.
- An expedite fee of $60 is charged when applicants request faster processing, regardless of age. This processing is currently 2–3 weeks when applying at an acceptance facility. The same fee is charged for expedited service when applying at a Passport Agency within 14 days of travel.
- In addition to the expedite fee, applicants may pay an additional $20.66 to receive overnight mail return when their application has finished processing. This can be paid in combination with the application fee when applying, or added later by calling the National Passport Information Center. However, overnight mail return is only available for the U.S. Passport Book. Passport cards may not be overnight mailed.
- As of January 1, 2016, passports may no longer have pages added to them. When applying for a new passport, applicants may apply for a 28-page or 52-page passport, with no additional cost for obtaining the 52-page passport.
Types of passports
- Regular (dark blue cover)
- Issuable to all citizens and non-citizen nationals. Periods of validity: for those age 16 or over, generally ten years from the date of issue; for those 15 and younger, generally five years from the date of issue.A sub-type of regular passports is no-fee passports, issuable to citizens in specified categories for specified purposes, such as an American sailor for travel connected with his duties aboard a U.S.-flag vessel. Period of validity: generally 10 years from the date of issue. A no-fee passport has an endorsement which prohibits its use for a purpose other than the specified purpose.
- Service (gray cover)
- Issuable to “certain non-personal services contractors who travel abroad in support of and pursuant to a contract with the U.S. government”, to demonstrate the passport holder is travelling “to conduct work in support of the U.S. government while simultaneously indicating that the traveler has a more attenuated relationship with the U.S. government that does not justify a diplomatic or official passport.”
- Official (reddish brown cover)
- Issuable to citizen-employees of the United States assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependents, and to some members of Congress who travel abroad on official business. Also issued to U.S. military personnel when deployed overseas. Period of validity: generally five years from the date of issue.
- Diplomatic (black cover)
- Issuable to American diplomats accredited overseas and their eligible dependents, to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work, to the President of the United States, the President-Elect, the Vice President and Vice President-elect and former presidents and vice presidents. Supreme Court Justices, current cabinet members, former secretaries and deputy secretaries of state, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, some members of Congress and retired career ambassadors are also eligible for a diplomatic passport. Period of validity: generally five years from the date of issue.
- Refugee Travel Document (also known as “Refugee Passport”) (blue-green cover)
- Not a full passport, but issued to aliens who have been classified as refugees or asylees.
- Re-entry Permit
- (blue-green cover), cover titled “Travel Document”
- Not a full passport, but issued to a permanent resident alien in lieu of a passport. The reentry permit guarantees them permission to reenter the U.S. and is usually valid for a period of two years. A reentry permit can also be used by permanent residents who are stateless or cannot get a passport for international travel, or who wish to visit a country they cannot on their passport
- Issuable to citizens overseas, in urgent circumstances. Period of validity: generally one year from the date of issues.An emergency passport may be exchanged for a full-term passport.
- U.S. passport card
- Not a full passport, but a small ID card issued by the U.S. government for crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. The passport card is not valid for International air travel. It is possible to hold the U.S. passport card in addition to a regular passport.
On the front cover, a representation of the Coat of arms of the United States is at the center. “PASSPORT” (in all capital letters) appears above the representation of the Great Seal, and “United States of America” (in Garamond italic) appears below.
An Official passport has “OFFICIAL” (in all capital letters) above “PASSPORT”. The capital letters of “OFFICIAL” are somewhat smaller than the capital letters of “PASSPORT”.
A Diplomatic passport has “DIPLOMATIC” (in all capital letters) above “PASSPORT”. The capital letters of “DIPLOMATIC” are somewhat smaller than the capital letters of “PASSPORT”.
A Travel Document, in both forms (Refugee Travel Document and Permit to Re-Enter), features the seal of the Department of Homeland Security instead of the Great Seal of the United States. Above the seal the words “TRAVEL DOCUMENT” appears in all capital letters. Below the seal is the legend “Issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” in upper and lower case.
In 2007, the passport was redesigned, after previous redesign in 1993. There are 13 quotes in the 28-page version of the passport and patriotic-themed images on the background of the pages.
A biometric passport has the e-passport symbol at the bottom. There are 32 pages in a biometric passport. Frequent travelers may request 52-page passports for no additional cost. Extra visa pages could previously be added to a passport, but, as of January 1, 2016, the service was discontinued entirely for security reasons.
Data page and signature page
Each passport has a data page and a signature page.
A data page has a visual zone and a machine-readable zone. The visual zone has a digitized photograph of the passport holder, data about the passport, and data about the passport holder:
- Type [of document, which is “P” for “passport”]
- Code [of the issuing country, which is “USA” for “United States of America”]
- Passport No.
- Given Name(s)
- Date of Birth
- Place of Birth (lists the state/territory followed by “U.S.A.” for those born in the United States; lists the current name of the country of birth for those born abroad)
- Date of Issue
- Date of Expiration
The machine-readable zone is present at the bottom of the page and contains P<USA[SURNAME]<<[GIVEN NAME(S)]<<<<<<<<<< in the first line and [PASSPORT NO. + 1 DIGIT]USA[DATE OF BIRTH + 1 DIGIT + SEX + DATE OF EXPIRATION + 10 DIGITS]<[6 DIGITS] in the second line. Both lines contain 44 characters in a fixed-width all-caps font, with the top line ending with enough left angle brackets to fill the 44 character limit.
A signature page has a line for the signature of a passport holder. A passport is not valid until it is signed by the passport holder. If a holder is unable to sign his passport, it is to be signed by a person who has legal authority to sign on the holder’s behalf.
Place of birth
Place of birth was first added to U.S. passports in 1917. The standards for the names of places of birth that appear in passports are listed in volume 7 of the Foreign Affairs Manual, published by the Department of State.A request to list no place of birth in a passport is never accepted.
For birthplaces within the United States and its territories, it contains the name of the state or territory followed by “U.S.A.”, except for the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. For persons born in the District of Columbia, passports indicate “Washington, D.C., U.S.A.” as the place of birth.
For places of birth located outside the United States, only the country or dependent territory is mentioned. The name of the country is the current name of the country that is presently in control of the territory the place of birth and thus changes upon a change of a country name. For example, people born before 1991 in the former Soviet Union (including the Baltic states, whose annexation by the Soviet Union was never recognized by the U.S.) would have the post-Soviet country name listed as the place of birth. Another example is that for birth in the former Panama Canal Zone, “Panama” is listed as the place of birth. A citizen born outside the United States may be able to have his city or town of birth entered in his passport, if he or she objects to the standard country name. However, if a foreign country denies a visa or entry due to the place-of-birth designation, the Department of State will issue a replacement passport at normal fees, and will not facilitate entry into the foreign country.
Provisions exists to deal with the complexities of the Greater China Region. As per the One-China policy, the United States recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, and acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is a part of China. However, people born in Taiwan can choose to have either “Taiwan”, “China” or their city of birth listed as place of birth. People born in Hong Kong or Macau would have their place of birth as “Hong Kong SAR” or “Macau SAR,” but the option of listing the city of birth only (e.g. “Hong Kong” without “SAR”) is not available. As Tibet is recognized as an integral part of China, the place of birth for people born in Tibet is written as “China”, with the option of listing only the city of birth.
Special provisions are in place for people born in Israel and Israeli-occupied territories. For birth in places other than Jerusalem (using its 1948 municipal borders) and the Golan Heights, “Israel”, “West Bank” or “Gaza Strip” is used. If born before 1948, “Palestine” may be used. For birth in the Golan Heights, “Syria” is used regardless of date of birth. Due to the legal uncertainty of the status of Jerusalem, for birth in Jerusalem within its 1948 municipal borders, “Jerusalem” is used regardless of date of birth.In 2002, Congress passed legislation that said that American citizens born in Jerusalem may list “Israel” as their country of birth, although Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have not allowed it. A federal appeals court declared the 2002 law invalid on July 23, 2013,and the Supreme Court upheld that decision on June 8, 2015. In all cases, the city or town of birth may be used in place of the standard designations.
For birth aboard aircraft and ships, if the birth occurs in an area where no country has sovereignty (i.e. over international waters), the place of birth is listed as “in the air” or “at sea” where appropriate.
Passports of many countries contain a message, nominally from the official who is in charge of passport issuance (e.g., secretary of state, minister of foreign affairs), addressed to authorities of other countries. The message identifies the bearer as a citizen of the issuing country, requests that he or she be allowed to enter and pass through the other country, and requests further that, when necessary, he or she be given help consistent with international norms. In American passports, the message is in English, French, and Spanish. The message reads:
- The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.
- Le Secrétaire d’État des États-Unis d’Amérique prie par les présentes toutes autorités compétentes de laisser passer le citoyen ou ressortissant des États-Unis titulaire du présent passeport, sans délai ni difficulté et, en cas de besoin, de lui accorder toute aide et protection légitimes.
and in Spanish:
- El Secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos de América por el presente solicita a las autoridades competentes permitir el paso del ciudadano o nacional de los Estados Unidos aquí nombrado, sin demora ni dificultades, y en caso de necesidad, prestarle toda la ayuda y protección lícitas.
The term “citizen/national” and its equivalent terms (“citoyen ou ressortissant”; “ciudadano o nacional”) are used in the message as some people born in American Samoa, including Swains Island, are nationals but not citizens of the United States.
The masculine inflections of “Le Secrétaire d’État” and “El Secretario de Estado” are used in all passports, regardless of the sex of the Secretary of State at the time of issue.
In November 2017, the U.S. Department of State announced that passports of US citizens previously convicted of sex crimes against minors would be endorsed with the message, “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to (U.S. law).