Divers planning to explore foreign waters should consider acquiring a passport. In many countries, a valid passport and a tourist visa are mandatory requirements. Aside from ensuring easy entry to foreign countries and easy reentry to the US, passports also serve as an assurance of better accommodations overseas.
If you are planning any extensive overseas travel for the purpose of diving, you should consider obtaining a passport. A passport is the most universally recognized and accepted form of identification. To enter some foreign countries, a passport is absolutely mandatory. in other countries, it helps make things easier and faster. Here are eight specific reasons why it is advantageous to obtain and carry a passport.
1 Entry requirement: In some foreign countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, a valid (in date) passport is a mandatory requirement. Without one you cannot visit the country.
2 Visa requirement: In some foreign countries, such as Australia and Papua New Guinea, a short term tourist visa is required. In order to obtain a visa, you must have a passport. In some cases (such as Australia) the tourist visa is glued onto one of the pages of the passport and becomes a permanent record.
3 Easy entry: Many Caribbean countries, such as The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Bonaire, have more lenient entry requirements. In lieu of a passport, these countries will accept proof of U.S. citizenship. However, there is much confusion as to what constitutes proof, with many uninformed travelers thinking a driver’s license is adequate. It is not.
Proof of U.S. citizenship requires either a certified birth certificate or a valid voter’s registrations card. This sort of identification is often unwieldy and subject to much closer and longer scrutiny. There you are, stuck in the immigration line, while other travelers present their U.S. passport and quickly move on through.
4 Easy reentry into the U.S.: The same can be said for reentry into the U.S. Many international airports, such as Miami, have a special, high speed immigration line for U.S. citizens carrying a passport. You simply flash your passport and are waved on through. Those without a passport end up in the slow moving line, where their documents are thoroughly scrutinized.
5 Easy airline check-in: When traveling to a foreign country, many airlines require presentation of your passport (or proof of citizenship) upon check-in. Once again, the process is easier and faster if you have a passport rather than an old, folded and worm birth certificate. Airlines are not permitted to put people on an aircraft without the proper travel documents.
6 Hotel check-in: In some foreign countries, hotels may ask for your passport number at check-in time. If you don’t have one, you are likely to get a strange, suspicious look.
7 Currency exchange: In some foreign countries, the exchange of money (U.S. dollars to local currency) is tightly controlled by the government. If you try change money at a bank or currency exchange agency, they may request your passport number.
8 Easy to carry: Compared to other forms of U.S. citizenship proof, a passport is by far the most durable and the easiest to carry. A passport is basically a small book with an extremely tough cover and 24 (or 48) rip-proof pages stitched inside. The booklet is 3.5 inches wide and almost 5 inches tall – just the right size to slip into a shirt pocket or an airline ticket folder.
How To Get One
Obtaining a passport is relatively easy but it does take time. If you live in or near one of the 13 major cities that have passport agencies, you can go directly to the agency office and apply in person. This is the quickest way to obtain one – if you are willing to come back and pick it up in person it takes about three days.
The initial passport applications must be made in person at a federal or state court of record, a designated post office, a passport agency or a U.S. embassy. Renewal applications can be processed by mail, provided the previously issued passport was granted within the last 12 years to an application older than 16.
Application forms are available at many U.S. post offices and/or court buildings. In addition, your travel agent may be able to provide you with an application. Allow three weeks for processing and return by mail.
In order to obtain a U.S. passport, you must provide five key items:
- Proof of U.S. citizenship: This can be in the form of a certified birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization.
- Two identical photos: These should be head within the last six months. The photos must measure two by two inches and the back of each photo must contain your full signature. The photos may be in either black and white or color and should have a white background. The passport application form provides all the details on the photo requirements.
- Evidence of identity: You must provide a document that has both your photo and your signature. It can be a driver’s license, employee identification card or a state identification card.
- Payment of $65: You must include a payment of $65 in the form of a check, money order or cash (if applying in person). If you wish to pay with cash, you must present the exact amount. Checks should be payable to Passport Services.
- Completed application: Along with the other four items, you must provide a completed and signed passport application, known as Form DS-11. If you are applying by mail or renewing your passport, you would use Form DS-82.
Once you have passport, keep it in a safe place. Overseas pickpockets and thieves place a high value on stolen passports, so be careful.