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Now's the time to renew your American passports

Wednesday, November 14, 2012    

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Q: I am a US citizen living in Jamaica who is planning to travel to the United States with my children for the holidays. My passport expires at the end of December, and my children's passports expire January. When is the best time to renew passports? Can I renew them before they expire?

A: Now is the best time to renew your passport. Anyone planning to travel for the holidays should check their passport expiration date, and if necessary, renew the passport as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment online by following the instructions available at http://kingston.usembassy.gov/appointments.html. Families who wish to come in together can schedule multiple appointments on the same day, even if their passports expire at different times. Appointments fill up very quickly around busy travel seasons such as the winter holidays and summer break, so do not wait until last minute to make an appointment.

Renew early

It is a good idea to start thinking about renewing your passport up to a year before it expires and to always check passport expiration dates before you finalise any travel arrangements. Adult passports are generally valid for 10 years, and children's passports are generally valid for five years. Passports cannot be extended.

It takes eight to 10 days from the date of your appointment at the embassy in Kingston or three to four weeks from your appointment at the Consular Agency in Montego Bay to receive your new passport. There is no way to expedite passport renewals outside of the United States, so planning in advance is essential. Emergency passports can only be issued for serious documented emergencies. Prearranged vacation travel plans and failure to plan ahead do not qualify for emergency passports.

Be careful

All US citizens are required by law to enter the United States and leave the United States on a valid US passport. You will not be able to travel back to the US by plane using your naturalisation certificate or your US birth certificate, and the embassy cannot provide "travel letters" to US citizens. Additionally, not having a valid US passport can hamper your ability to travel back to the US in the case of a sudden emergency or evacuation, because even emergency passports take time to process.

Renewing your children's passports

Planning in advance is especially important with children under the age of 16, because renewing a child's passport requires additional steps. All children must present a birth certificate. If both parents reside in Jamaica, they must both appear in person at the embassy or consular agency. Parents who reside overseas must provide an original notarised consent form DS-3053 and a copy of their government issued ID.

If both parents are overseas and the child is coming to the appointment with someone who is not the parent, that person also needs to bring a notarised letter from both parents specifically authorising him or her to apply for a passport on the child's behalf and be able to show a passport or a driver's licence as ID. If a child's appearance has changed significantly since the last passport issuance, the parents or guardian should also bring photos showing how the child has changed over the past 5 years. An incomplete application will further delay passport issuance.

The most current information on renewing passports comes directly from the US Embassy in Kingston, http://kingston.usembassy.gov/, or the www.travel.state.gov website. With a little advance planning, you can help ensure that you and your family have no travel complications that result from expired passports.

The US Embassy staff in Kingston will answer questions you may have regarding the US Mission, including consular law, regulations and/or practice. In order to respect privacy, staff will not answer questions about specific visa applications. The embassy employs a visa appointment system, so it is only necessary for visa applicants to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.

Send your questions to:

editorial@jamaicaobserver.com and we will send them to the embassy.

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