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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty recently Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairsdiscussed the latest version of the world's premiere travel document--the U.S. electronic passport. The State Department took a major step forward in strengthening border security and facilitating travel with the issuance of the first e-passports to the American public on August 14. E-passports incorporate the latest technology, including a contactless computer chip in the rear cover of the book that contains the same biographic data found on the passport's data page. The e-passport has been completely redesigned and employs a multi-layered approach to protect the privacy of the information and the security of this valuable document.



Laura Jessica Binder from Albuquerque asks, "What is the procedure for acquiring an electronic passport? How long does it take to process? What are the costs involved?"

Hello Laura, this is an excellent question. Although we are now issuing electronic passports, the procedures for acquiring a passport have not changed from previous procedures. First time applicants must appear in person, provide Form DS-11, proof of U.S. Citizenship, proof of identity, social security number, two passport photos, and the fee. People who are renewing their passports can do so by mail, submitting Form DS-82, along with their most recent passport, two passport photos and the renewal fee.

Routine passport application processing generally takes 6 weeks or less, and expedited service takes about 2 weeks.

The cost of a new passport for someone age 16 and older is $97; for renewals the cost is $67. For someone under age 16, the fee is $82.

More information, including downloadable application forms and a list of locations close to you where you can apply, can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Angel from New York City asks "I would like to know, with the biographical page being the second page of the passport (not on the inside from cover as it is right now) how easy will it be to scan the passport through the reader since the page will be much thinner than the cover?"

Thanks for your question, Angel. This is one of the most noticeable design changes in the new e-passport. Moving the data page from the inside cover to the third page is one additional way we've improved the security of the U.S. passport, making it significantly more difficult to counterfeit. We've thoroughly tested the new e-passport design, both in the laboratory and in airports around the world. All types of e-passport readers, as well as traditional passport readers, will be able to scan the machine-readable zone of the passport.

Linda from Oroville, California asks "How long is an American passport good for?"

Hello Linda, and thanks for your inquiry. The validity of the U.S. Passport can be determined by the age of the passport holder. If you are 16 or older when your passport is issued it is valid for 10 years, but if you are younger than 15 years of age at the time of issuance, then the passport is valid for 5 years. Always check to see when your passport expires before you travel, because you cannot travel on an expired passport. Also remember to check the entry requirements for the countries you are traveling to, as some countries require that your passport be valid for six months beyond your stay.

More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Reinaldo Delvalle from Centereach, New York asks, "I heard that starting in January 2007, I will need a passport to travel to and from the U.S. Virgin Island and Puerto Rico, even though they are U.S. territories."

Hello Reinaldo, this is an excellent question. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does not apply to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, or to any of the other U.S. territories, including Guam and American Samoa.

If you're flying or taking a cruise to any other destination in the Caribbean, you will need a passport to return to the United States as of January 8, 2007.

More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Richard from Taipei-shi, Formosa, Taiwan asks "Dear Madam Assistant Secretary Harty: When is the E-Passport available at overseas U.S. missions (Embassy, Consulate-General) such as http://www.ait.org.tw, Can I get another or an replacement of E-Passport, even my passport is yet expire until Feb., 2013. How about the fee, any change since Feb. 2003? Thank you for listening to my comment. God Bless you."

Hello, Richard, and thank you for your question. It's important to clarify that, because the latest technology incorporated into the U.S. e-passport is not available at U.S. embassies and consulates, U.S. e-passports are not issued abroad. Applications from abroad are processed here in the United States, at the National Passport Processing Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This facility, like all of our passport production facilities, will begin producing e-passports within the next several months. We encourage Americans overseas to apply early for renewal of expiring passports.

U.S. embassies and consulates will continue to issue passports that are needed for urgent travel. However, these passports are limited in validity, and cannot be extended.

Also, if you have a valid U.S. passport, it will remain valid until it expires, so there is no need to immediately replace your passport. However, you are free to renew your passport at any time (keep in mind, there is a $67 renewal fee).

Although we are now issuing electronic passports, the procedures for obtaining a new passport and renewing a passport remain the same, along with all fees.

James from Washington, DC asks, "I am a U.S. citizen with a current U.S. passport. Do I require a VISA to enter the Czech Republic and Slovakia? I am going with a tour group in November 2006."

Hello, James, this is a great question. To visit the Czech Republic and Slovakia you will need a valid U.S. Passport, but you will not need a visa for a tourist stay unless you plan on staying for more than 90 days. For other requirements you should see our Foreign Entry Requirements Brochure at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html#c  and also contact or visit the websites of the Embassy or Consulate of the countries that you plan to visit prior to traveling to ensure that you meet all documentary requirements for entry. Enjoy your trip!

Karen in New York asks "Are ALL U.S. passports from this date going to be issued in the "new style". My "old style" passport doesn't expire til 2013. Would I be better off getting the new "microchip" passport? I don't mind the expense.... whatever will make things easier for me."

Hello Karen, once all Passport Agencies have been equipped to issue the new passport, all newly issued passports will be electronic. However, there is no need to replace your current U.S. passport. You can continue to travel on your current passport, and it will remain valid until it expires. You are free to renew your passport at any time (keep in mind, there is a $67 renewal fee).

More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

DuShon in Brooklyn, New York asks "Can I get a passport just for identification purposes, and not for traveling?"

Excellent question! If you are a U.S. citizen, you can definitely get a passport for identification purposes. A passport is a secure, internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. It is a great idea to obtain a passport for identification purposes, and just to have in case you decide to treat yourself to a nice vacation in the future!

If this is your first time applying for a U.S. passport you must appear in person and provide Form DS-11, proof of U.S. Citizenship, proof of identity, social security number, two passport photos, and the fee. People who are renewing their passports can do so by mail.

More information, including downloadable application forms and a list of locations close to you where you can apply, can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Pam Best in Highland, Michigan asks, "My husband, myself and children are all Canadian citizens and live in the US. We have our Permanent Resident Cards, will we still need passports. Since these cards are through the government, they have our fingerprints and pictures, will they be enough? Thank you."

Hi, Pam. It sounds like your question refers to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Under this Initiative, Legal Permanent Residents will continue to be able to use their Alien Registration Card (Form I-551) or other valid evidence of permanent residence status to enter the United States. As non-citizens, you and your family would not be eligible for U.S. passports.

Jana Phillips in California asks, "As I understand it, effective Jan. 1, 2007, you must have a passport to travel internationally; your birth certificate will no longer be accepted. However my son in the military in Iraq, and is looking at traveling on vacation from 12/28-1/3. Since he is in Iraq, he is unable to get a passport. Will his military ID work in place of his ID, or does he need to choose another location to travel to? Thank you for your time and consideration."

Jana, I'm not sure where your son plans to travel, but he should check the Foreign Entry Requirements brochure on our web site at http://travel.state.gov  to find out if a passport is required to enter those countries. For travel throughout the Western Hemisphere, passports will be required to enter or re-enter the United States by air or sea as of January 8, 2007. We changed this deadline specifically in order to accommodate holiday travelers like your son. If your son does need to obtain a passport while in Iraq, he can apply for one at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. If that is not possible, he might want to apply for expedited processing when he returns to the United States to ensure he receives his passport in time to travel. .

I should also note that, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, there are no changes proposed for members of the U.S. armed forces traveling on active duty. U.S. citizens traveling as a member of the United States armed forces on active duty are not required to present a valid passport to enter or depart the United States.

I wish your son a safe return and a pleasant vacation.

Renee in Philadelphia asks, "Does the chip also contain visa information along with your personal data? What happens when you lose your passport? Can you update the information on your chip?"

Renee, I'm so glad you asked this question. The chip in the U.S. electronic passport will securely store the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport—your name, nationality, gender, date and place of birth—and will also include a digital photograph. It will also contain information about the passport itself—the passport number, issue date, expiration date, and type of passport. No additional information will be stored on the chip. No information about your travel, past or future, will be stored on the chip. Visa information and entry/exit stamps will still be on the visa pages inside of the passport, as in the regular passport.

Although we are now issuing electronic passports, the procedures for applying, obtaining, replacing, and renewing a U.S. passport have not changed. If your passport is lost or stolen, it should be reported immediately. U.S. passports reported lost or stolen are invalidated and can no longer be used for travel. First you must report your passport stolen by completing a Complete Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport, Form DS-64 and then you must complete an Application for Passport, Form DS-11, and appear in person at a Passport Agency or Acceptance Facility. If you are overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, you must contact the nearest Embassy of Consulate for assistance. When your U.S. passport is replaced, the information on your chip will automatically be updated.

Once an electronic passport is issued, the information on the chip cannot be changed. Procedures for correcting information in your passport can be found on our website, at http://travel.state.gov.

Luis from New York asks, "Who came up with the new design as far as the pics and colors? It looks more like an drawing book for kids than a passport."

Hello Luis. We worked with the Government Printing Office to develop the new design, and we are very proud of the result. The "American Icons" design theme for the passport reflects the many beautiful landscapes of our country. Each page includes a quotation reflecting the hope and success of the United States of America. The new look also incorporates many anti-fraud and security features.

On the cover, the symbol at the bottom is the international symbol for an electronic passport. It signifies that the passport contains an integrated circuit chip on which data about the passport and passport bearer is stored. The symbol will be displayed at border inspection lanes at all airports and transit ports equipped with special data readers for Electronic Passports.

More information and images of the e-passport can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Darrin in Sugarland, Texas asks " understand that passports will have rfid chips in them. Detectors are commonplace for shoplifting detection. What prevents them from being enhanced to read the rfid chips?"

This is a great question, Darrin. RFID technology is used in many forms in different industries. The technology used in the passport differs in important ways from that used to track inventory, and includes a number of security features that would prevent it from being read by a scanner at a store. First of all, the e-passport uses a proximity read technology, meaning that the chip can only be read at a close distance, around 10 centimeters or less. Secondly, a metallic anti-skimming material is built into the cover of the passport, which makes it nearly impossible to access the chip when the book is closed. Finally, the data on the chip is locked down by something known as Basic Access Control. This means the machine readable zone on the passport's data page (the page with the photo) must be read first in order to generate a key that "unlocks" the data on the chip. You can see that we've taken a number of important steps to ensure that the data on the passport remains secure and protected.

Shawn in Baltimore, Maryland asks "can the e-passport be purchased now, if so where?"

Hello Shawn. The production of the e-passport started on August 14, 2006 at the Colorado Passport Agency and will be expanded to other production facilities over the next several months. Once all Passport Agencies have been fully equipped to issue the new passport, all newly issued passports will be electronic. Electronic passports will be available everywhere before you know it!

Larlyn C Leathers in California asks, "We currently have passports that don't expire until 2012. Will these passports be ok to use or do they need to be replaced? My daughter and son-in-law are flying to Paris in three weeks. Are their passports ok to use without the new chip? Thank you."

Hello Larlyn, and thanks for your question. Previously issued passports that are still valid can be used for travel until they expire. If you have a valid U.S. passport and it is valid until 2012, there is no need to replace your passport. You and your family can travel using your current passports. I hope they have a great trip!

John Shanahan in Silver Spring, Maryland asks "1. Should holders of current passports apply for the new e-passport prior to expiration of the current document? 2. How much is the fee for the new passport? 3. How long will the new passport be good for? 4. Will use of the new passport speed customs and immigration processing?"

Hello John, and thanks for your questions. I hope you'll find that I've answered most of your questions already, but let me emphasize again: previously issued passports that are still valid can be used for travel until they expire. If you have a valid U.S. passport, there is no need to replace your passport. However, if your passport will expire soon and you plan to travel, you should apply to renew your passport prior to expiration.

To answer your second question, the procedures for applying, obtaining, replacing, and renewing a U.S. passport have not changed, nor have the fees. The passport renewal fee is still $67. The rules on the validity of the U.S. passport also remain unchanged; the validity of the U.S. Passport is determined by the age of the passport holder. If you are 16 or older when your passport is issued it is valid for 10 years, but if you are younger than 15 years of age at the time of issuance, then the passport is valid for 5 years. More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

To answer your last question, we expect the new electronic passport will facilitate travel immensely. The e-passport incorporates new technology to help ensure that the person using the passport is the same person to whom it was issued. It will allow for more efficient and secure inspection at ports of entry across the country, because border inspectors will have greater assurance that the person presenting the passport is the person to whom it was legitimately issued. The Electronic Passport will facilitate travel by allowing automated identity verification, faster immigration inspections, and greater border protection and security.

Liza V. Pangilinan in the Philippines asks, "My daughter is a U.S. citizen. How can she renew her passport? Her passport is to be expired this March 2008. How can she renew it she's now in the Philippines? Pls. advise. Thank you and more power."

Hello Liza, your daughter can still use her current passport until it expires. When her passport does expire, she can get assistance in renewing her passport from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Keep in mind that the new passport will be issued here in the United States and mailed to her, so she should allow plenty of time to renew the passport before she plans to travel on it.

More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

SSG Bob Shanks in Jackson, Mississippi asks, "I presently have a military passport. Does it need a chip also?"

Thank you for your question, Sergeant Shanks. The State Department started issuing official (red cover) e-passports in April 2006, and diplomatic e-passports (black cover) before then, at the end of 2005. We used these as pilot tests before we rolled out production of tourist (blue cover) e-passports on August 14. As with the tourist passports, we are NOT requiring anyone to turn in his or her current, valid passport. Your current military passport can be used until it expires.

LCpl. Rick Ret. USMC from Florida asks "Now that there is the E-Passport what about a computer chip ID?"

LCpl Rick, many forms of identification—including my State Department building pass—incorporate computer chips and RFID technology. The new e-passport reflects an international desire to use this technology in creating more secure travel documents for the 21st century. As I've noted, a passport is a very useful identification document, since it provides proof of citizenship and identity, and is globally recognized.

Roger in Reno, Nevada asks, " My passport expired 8/15/06. I think I would like to get an E-Passport if/when I can. I am not planning any travel that would necessitate a passport until February 2007. Can I just wait until E-Passports are available and renew then, or is it just as easy to renew now and convert to an E-Passport later?"

Hello Roger, I'm glad to hear you're interested in obtaining a new e-passport. We cannot "convert" a new passport to an e-passport, as it is an entirely new document, with a different design and special technological features. In general, we advise applicants to allow six weeks for processing of their passport application. So I would not wait too long to renew your passport if you plan to travel soon.

If you apply for your new passport and are not issued an electronic passport, the passport you are issued will be sufficient for your travels. All passports issued prior to the issuance of electronic passports will remain valid and can be used for travel until they expire.

More information can be found on our website at http://travel.state.gov.

Sheraly in Dubai, U.A.E. asks, "I like the idea of E Passport. How can Americans living in a foreign country apply?"

Sheraly, U.S. citizens living abroad can contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance in applying for or renewing a passport. I encourage you to look at our website, http://travel.state.gov, for more information on applying for a U.S. passport.

Lisa Ann Klevence from Ardmore, Pennsylvania asks "If I just sent in my renewal application on 8/21 to Pittsburg, will I get the E-passport or the old one? If I got an old one, will foreign countries still accept it and not require the E-passport for entry into their country? Also, will U.S. citizens be able to request the E-passport even if their present non-Epassport hasn't expired?"

Hello, Lisa Ann, and thanks for your questions. At this time, we are only producing e-passports in our Colorado Passport Agency. By mid-2007, we expect to be producing e-passports at all of our passport production facilities nationwide. Your new passport will probably be the traditional passport, which will continue to be accepted worldwide and will be valid until it expires. You can renew your passport at any time, but bear in mind there is a $67 renewal fee.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the e-passports, and for all of your interesting questions. I encourage you to look at our website to find more answers to your questions about passports, as well as application forms, images of the new e-passport, and information about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

 


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