The global ID card—and, technically, the only thing absolutely required for travel abroad

The passport office in Washington, DC
The passport office in Washington, DC (you can just mail in the forms, though.)
When it comes down to it, you really only need three things to travel to a foreign country: (1) a plane ticket, (2) clothing, and (3) a passport. (Money also helps.)

A valid passport is the only legal form of identification recognized around the world. Your driver's license ain't gonna cut it out there— abroad, it only proves that some U.S. state lets you drive (though you will need that to rent a car).

"Almost expired" is the same as "expired"
Note that many countries will not let you in if your passport is set to expire within six months. If your passport is getting on in years and is due to expire within six months of your return to your home country, it's wisest to replace it with a new one before your trip.
You cannot cross an international border without a passport. Well, OK, since 1997 you can criss-cross most of Western Europe without flashing it, but you still need it to get in, plus to go to Great Britain and Ireland (it's an insular thing), Switzerland (it's a neutrality thing), and most of Eastern Europe (it's a holdover-from-the-Iron-Curtain-days thing).

Getting a passport is easy—all it takes is two photos of yourself, some government forms, and $135—but it takes some time to complete the process.

This pages details how to get a passport for U.S. citizens. If you hail from another country, use to find the site of your local equivalent to the State Department or Foreign Office to get the details.
Make sure you start the paperwork at least six to ten weeks in advance of your departure. It'll probably only take 3-4 weeks (and there are ways to expedite it—for a fee), but don't tempt fate.

This process involves showing up in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility (which includes many major post offices, some libraries, courthouses, and other government buildings; the list is at You cannot simply apply for a passport by mail.

Since all the current details on how to apply for a passport are so readily available on-line, there's little reason for me to rehash it all here—just go to the excellent State Department site ( and it'll walk you through the process. But here are a few useful pointers:

Other requirements
In addition to a passport, and possibly an entry visa, some countries may ask for the following:

A local address in the country (just have the name/location of your first hotel ready)
• An ongoing ticket (proof you're going to leave the country)
Proof that you have money (credit cards and an ATM card should do)


U.S. State Department - This Web site is the best thing the government has ever done for travelers. You can download passport applications, research potential visa requirements, read consular fact sheets and travel warnings on the countries you wish to visit, and find out all about the services available to US citizens abroad. Great set of links to other governmental and non-governmental travel sites, too.

Embassy World - A nifty little Web site that links you to every embassy and consulate Web site out there, so an Aussie can find not only the Australian consulate in Rome, Italy, but also Italy's consulate in Canberra so he can ring up about visa requirements.

U.S. Embassies - Direct links to individual U.S. Embassy Web sites around the globe.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.