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Plan ahead for your US passport application

Wednesday, July 25, 2012    

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A: My son's United States (US) passport expired several months ago and needs to get back to school in a couple of weeks. Can he get an emergency passport or a letter allowing him to travel?

A: Federal law requires all US citizens to enter and exit the United States on a valid US passport, even if they are also citizens of another country. United States citizens may not enter the US on an expired passport, naturalisation certificate, birth certificate, or a passport issued by another country. Contrary to what airlines may say, there is also no way to extend the validity of an expired passport, nor is there a letter the embassy can provide to allow travel by citizens who do not have US passports. If a US citizen is abroad and he does not have a valid passport, he must apply for a new one at a US Embassy or Consular Agency before he can travel home.

Summer is a busy time for travel and demand for passport services is high. It is essential that all travelers plan ahead and assure that their travel documents remain current. Appointments are required for passport services. During the summer season, the wait for an appointment may be several weeks or more. While the embassy can in very limited circumstances produce emergency passports on an expedited basis, poor planning or a failed attempt to travel with an expired passport are seldom considered emergencies for this purpose, even if the traveler needs to return to school in the US. Therefore, it is important to check passport validity before purchasing a plane ticket.

In order to avoid delays, please be sure that all required documents, fees and photos are prepared prior to your passport appointment. All requirements for passport applications should be reviewed at http://travel.state.gov/ before applying. Note in particular that all applicants under the age of 16 must be physically present when the application is submitted. The appearance or consent of both parents must also be provided in most cases. Parents living abroad may sign a notarized consent form if they cannot be present at the time of application; please note, however, that this will add to the time required to gather the necessary materials.

Any US citizen in Jamaica or the Cayman Islands can apply for a passport at the Embassy in Kingston. Residents of Hanover, St Ann, St James, Trelawny, and Westmoreland may, if they prefer, submit applications at the US Consular Agency in Montego Bay. Likewise, residents of the Cayman Islands can submit passport applications at the US Consular Agency in George Town. However, because applications accepted at the Consular Agencies are sent to Kingston for adjudication, processing times for those applications can be considerably longer.

To schedule an appointment in Kingston, visit http://kingston.usembassy.gov/appointments.html and follow the instructions. Appointments are available every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:00 am - 11:00 am, except public holidays. To schedule an appointment at a Consular Agency, send an e-mail to either MoBayACS@state.gov (for Montego Bay) or CaymanACS@state.gov (for George Town) that includes: the type of service required (ie, minor passport, adult passport renewal), the applicant's full name and date of birth, and your desired appointment time.

Once a passport application has been approved, it takes approximately 10 business days for a passport application submitted in Kingston to be processed. This processing time is much quicker than the expedited service available in the United States, and cannot be further expedited. Applications from Montego Bay or George Town may take up to five weeks to process.

For more information about American Citizen Services, please visit our website, http://kingston.usembassy.gov/service.html.

Reminder for US citizens

The 2012 election season is underway in the United States. To register to vote from abroad or to sign up to receive state-specific election alerts, visit http://fvap.gov. You may drop off your voting materials with postage affixed at the US Embassy in Kingston or at the US Consular Agencies in Montego Bay and the Cayman Islands for delivery to the United States.

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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