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Why get a passport?

We think there are five important reasons why naturalized citizens should obtain a US passport:

1. † You Can't Travel With Your Certificate of Naturalization

Except in very limited situations, a Certificate of Naturalization can not be used to reenter the United States (see Traveling outside of the U.S. - Documents needed for U.S. Citizens").

More practically speaking, most airlines will probably not let you board a returning flight to the United States unless you have a US passport. If you do travel with your Certificate of Naturalization, you also run the risk of losing your only legal proof of US citizenship.

2. † Additional Proof of Citizenship

Even if you donít travel, you run the same risks of losing or damaging your Certificate of Naturalization when you have to remove it from safe keeping to show as proof of citizenship. † This can occur, for example, when starting a new job, when you need picture ID, or when questioned by government officials about your legal status. † If you have a passport, your Certificate of Naturalization remains safely stored away.

If you lose your Certificate of Naturalization, you are going to have to deal with the CIS all over again. † They will have to find your naturalization records and issue you another Certificate of Naturalization. † This can take more than a year. † If they accidentally damage, lose, or misplace your naturalization recordsóguess what?óyou may lose your right to continue to live and work here.

On the other hand, if you have a US passport, even an expired US passport, you have legal, documented proof of your citizenship. † A passport is a great backup document for proving your citizenship.

3. † A US Passport Is Your Ticket To Travel The World

With your US passport in hand, you can travel and live anywhere in the world for as long as you like and always have the good olí USA as a place to come home to. † Also, in the event of either an emergency involving a family member abroad, an unexpected business trip, or an airfare bargain, having a valid U.S. passport ready and waiting will save you time, money, and stress.

4. † Protection While Traveling and Living Abroad

The United States has embassies in just about every country on the planet. † In many countries, there are separate US consulates that also assist US citizens. † A US passport gains you access to these embassies and consulates which act like a home-away-from-home. † They can help if you run into problems while visiting or living in a foreign country. † In addition, the mighty US military, which is deployed around the world, is there to protect and rescue US citizens when conditions in foreign lands suddenly turn unsafe for Americans.

5. † An Alternative Form of Picture ID

US Passports are a legal type of picture ID. † They are nearly impossible to counterfeit, and since 9/11, passports are acting like our countryís de facto national ID card. † Many government agencies, banks, transportation authorities, and security personnel recognize US passports as an acceptable form of photo identification.

Compared to a driver license, which can be easily copied, US passports are rock solid proof of who you are and where you are allowed to live. † So if you lose your driver license or you are person at risk of having your identify and citizenship closely scrutinized, a US passport serves as alternative form of identification as well as proof of citizenship.

With all these compelling reasons for having a US passport, we suggest you donít delay and start the application process for a US passport right after your naturalization ceremony or right now if you havenít done so.

What You Should Know Before Applying for a Passport (Please Read)

When you apply for a US passport, you apply to the United States Department of State (the State Department). † They are the only government agency authorized to issue US passports. † They have an excellent website that will walk you through the whole process (US Passports).

Warning: When you apply for a US passport, you are going to have to apply in person. † You must submit your Certificate of Naturalization to the State Department as part of the passport application process. † Your Certificate of Naturalization along with your passport photos and application will be sent to one of the State Departmentís two passport processing centers for examination and validation. † So you will temporarily lose the only proof you have of US citizenship.

Please make a backup copy of your Certificate of Naturalization before submitting your passport application. † The State Department will return your Certificate of Naturalization to you with your new passport. † The whole process can take up to 6 to 8 weeks for naturalized citizens.

Two other points we need to cover before we walk you through the passport application process:

1. † Because you have never had a US passport, you must apply for a passport in person and not by mail. † When you go to the State Departmentís passport website you want to follow the procedures for applying in person for a US passport (US Passport in person).

2. † There are two types of places to apply for a passport in person. † The first is a State Department passport agency. † These agencies are located in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States and should be used only if you need a passport in a hurry (less than two weeks). † You will pay extra for this expedited service and must schedule an appointment prior to visiting one of the passport agencies.

The other passport application place is called a passport acceptance facility. † These are the most common places to apply for a passport in person and the place we recommend you use (unless youíre in a big hurry). † They are typically the local city and county government offices. † You donít pay a premium for having your passport processed and, if you are in a hurry, they can also expedite the process (for a price of course).
We will now briefly discuss the steps in obtaining a passport, highlighting the key points in each step so your passport application will get processed without delay or rework.

The Steps in Applying for a US Passport

1. † Get the Passport Application Form (Form DS-11)

You have two choices here. You can either:

  1. Download the form from the Internet and print it yourself ( Form DS-11, Application for Passport ), or

  2. Go and pick up the application from your nearest Passport Acceptance Facility.
    Note: Travel Agents and many places that take passport photos may also have passport applications.
2.† Complete the Passport Application

Once you have the passport application it is pretty straightforward to fill out. † The only thing to remember is not to sign it until you are asked to at the passport acceptance facility. † They may want to witness you signing the application.

3. † Have Your Passport Photos Taken

There are plenty of businesses that take passport photos. † Please keep in mind that the size of your head (measured from the bottom of your chin to the top of your head) in the photo must be between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches. † We suggest you measure or have your head size measured right after the photos are developed. † Secondly, you should not be wearing any dark glasses, hats, headdress, and headgear when your photo is taken.

4. † Get Your ID, Money, and Forms Together

Since 9/11 the passport agencies and acceptance facilities have been closely scrutinizing passport applications, especially from naturalized citizens. † We suggest you bring plenty of identification with you including your driver license and any other form of picture ID including employee badges or government ID. † We also suggest bringing non-picture ID such as your social security card, credit cards, and voter registration card (if you have one). † Of course, bring your Certificate of Naturalization.

The passport acceptance facility is going to need your Certificate of Naturalization to process your passport application (so please make a backup copy before you go). † We also suggest making a copy of your passport application.

Passport acceptance facilities generally accept cash, personal checks, and money orders. † Some accept credit cards. † We suggest you call them to find out what payment they accept, their hours of operation, and where they are located. † Please keep in mind that if you pay by check or money order, you will have to write two checks or get two money orders:† one for $67 to the "U.S. Department of State" and another for $30 dollars to the local acceptance facility.

5. † Go to the Passport Acceptance Facility, Submit Your Paperwork, and Pay the Fees

Now that you have your ID, Certificate of Naturalization and money togther, your passport photos taken, and your application filled out (except for signing it), you are ready to go to your local passport acceptance facility.

To find the passport acceptance facility nearest you, go to Passport Acceptance Facility.

When itís time to sign your passport application in front of the passport clerk, sign your passport application using your regular signatureóthe same signature you use for credit cards, checks, and your driver license.

The passport clerk will either staple or paper clip your certificate to your passport application. † They will send both along with your photos to the State Department who will examine and validate your Certificate of Naturalization before issuing a passport.

Donít worry. † The State Department is aware of how valuable and important your Certificate of Naturalization is to you. † They will return your certificate in a separate envelope a week or two after you receive your passport.

If the State Department does damage or lose your Certificate of Naturalization, please complain immediately by calling the National Passport Information Center. † We here at would also like to hear about any damaged or unreturned Certificates of Naturalization by the State Department or problems you are having as a naturalized citizen getting a passport. ( contact us )

6. † Sign Your Passport in Ink (No Ballpoint Pens), Complete the Emergency Information Page in Pencil

When your new passport arrives (with your Certificate of Naturalization), please sign it in ink using a felt-tip, rollerball or calligraphy-type pen (no ballpoint pens). † Sign it exactly as you did on your passport application using the same signature you would use to sign checks, traveler checks, and credit card slips.

Fill out the emergency information page in pencil. † Since you passport is good for ten years the information on the emergency information page may change over time. † We recommend filing out this page in pencil so you can change it in the future.

7. † Make Copies of Your Passport Identification Page

After you sign your passport, make at least three copies of your passport identification page. † This will help in replacing your passport if it is lost or stolen. † Leave one copy at home, accessible to friends or relatives. † Leave another and any spares with your Certificate of Naturalization as backups. † Finally, carry one with you while you travel, in a place separate from your passport (for example, in your luggage). † We also highly recommend carrying a notarized photocopy of your Certificate of Naturalization as an additional backup.

8. † Store Your Passport in a Secure Area

Passports are relatively easy to replace compared to your Certificate of Naturalization, but itís still a hassle. † If you travel out of the country more than three times a year, we suggest keeping your passport at home, safely tucked away somewhere. † If you travel out of the country three times a year or less, we suggest keeping your passport in a safe or bank safe deposit box.

Here is the last thing we want to say about passports:

Donít ever throw away old, expired passports. † They can be used as proof of US citizenship, establish your longevity as an American, and will help you in obtaining a new passport.

Keep expired passports in the same secure place you keep your Certificate of Naturalization (hopefully in a safe deposit box or a home safe). † You may want to even consider keeping your expired passports in a secure place away from your Certificate of Naturalization (like a trusted relative or friend). † They will act as a backup should your Certificate of Naturalization or current passport ever be lost or stolen.
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