Hi! I’m Brenda Sprague, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services at the U.S. Department of State. We’re responsible for issuing passports to millions of U.S. citizens each year. This year we have issued 21.7 million passports - a record setting number! Whether you need your passport for a trip abroad or as an alternative ID to fly domestically if your state driver’s license or ID isn’t REAL ID compliant we’re here to help. I’m here today to answer any questions you have about U.S. passports. I cannot speak to individual cases, but I can speak about the passport application process and why we recommend you apply early.

More About Passport Awareness Month and the REAL ID Act:

This month I especially want to highlight upcoming changes to identification requirements for domestic flights. Starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification to board their flight for domestic air travel. To check whether your state is compliant or has an extension, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Real ID page. Passengers with driver’s licenses issued by a state that is compliant with REAL ID (or a state that has been issued an extension) will still be able to use their driver’s licenses or identification cards. If it isn’t, we recommend using your passport book or wallet-sized passport card. Don’t have a passport yet? This is our slow season so now is a great time to apply.

Ask me (almost) anything!

Social media proof here.

EDIT: Thanks everyone for your great questions. I’m signing off now, but keep in touch! You can call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 for questions about applying for your passport or a passport application you have already submitted. You can also visit our website at travel.state.gov, follow @TravelGov on Twitter or like us on Facebook. For questions about the REAL ID Act, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website.

Comments: 493 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

tariqabjotu114 karma

Starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification to board their flight for domestic air travel.

I guess my question is in regarding this. Is that really going to happen?

This seems to have been constantly postponed for years, and the idea that people from dozens of states would need passports to travel domestically (am I reading correctly that California goes back to being non-compliant after Oct. 10?) is a bit absurd.

Is Jan. 22, 2018, really the drop-dead date?

TravelGov40 karma

REAL ID is a program under the auspices of U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You can track the status of state extensions here.

Remember the U.S. passport book and passport card are REAL ID compliant, so you can use them for identification for domestic air travel if your other forms of ID are not REAL ID compliant.

PastaPappa58 karma

On the back of the Passport Card:

"Valid only for international land and sea travel between United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda."

When I asked about domestic travel, I was told it was not valid for that use and I would have to use my passport.

TravelGov37 karma

Who told you that it was not valid for domestic air travel?

PastaPappa32 karma

There was a couple of people behind a table at a "fair" for travel which claimed to be from Immigration (this was over a year ago when I last renewed my passport) and passport control. They were there to help people fill out passport applications and I saw the passport card (which I hadn't heard of before) and asked about it. I specifically wanted to know if it would work as a RealID for domestic air travel and they said no, only for air travel between North American countries.

TravelGov65 karma

It sounds like there was a misunderstanding. We work closely with TSA, who control the security of domestic airports, to make sure they know the U.S. passport card is a valid ID for domestic air travel.

Please note the U.S. passport card is not valid as a passport document for international air travel. In other words, you can use the U.S. passport card to travel by plane between NYC and LA, but not between NYC and Toronto. However, you can use it when entering the United States at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

More information about the passport card can be found here.

Lifeabroad8659 karma

If I travelled to XYZ, and get detained, what should I do? will the local police call the embassy for me, or will I have to keep insisting on calling the embassy?

I bring this up because many fellow Americans have no idea what to do, and dont know the limitations of how much help the embassy can offer. Could you briefly tell everyone here what the embassy can and cant do for a citizen being detained.

PS I want to personally thank you for ensuring a speedy process for passport applications!

TravelGov55 karma

Good question! I am delighted to hear you had such a good experience getting your new passport quickly.

If U.S. citizens should find themselves in this predicament, we recommend that they continue to advocate for authorities to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Please see our page on Arrest or Detention Abroad.

I also encourage U.S. citizens to look at the U.S. Embassy and Consulate websites in their destination countries, as they might have country-specific information about arrests and detentions there.

PastaPappa48 karma

Good afternoon Brenda. When I renewed my passport, I also got the passport card, thinking that I could use it for domestic air travel since I live in a state without RealID. I'm confused and frustrated as to why the card specifically prohibits using it for domestic air travel. It's almost like the Federal Government is trying to force states into making their driver's licenses RealIDs, (which I'm against BTW). Is there a reasonable reason why a card that requires the same proof of ID that a U.S. passport requires shouldn't be allowed to let me fly from Minneapolis to Chicago?

TravelGov76 karma

You cannot use the U.S. passport card for international air travel, but you can use it as identification for domestic air travel. I use mine for this purpose whenever I travel.

We will make sure this is even clearer on the next version of the U.S. passport card. We recognize the current version says "not for air travel," but that refers to international air travel. We're sorry for any confusion.

occidental_oriental46 karma

Hiya! Kind of a mundane question, but what happens if someone 'fills up' their passport with stamps? Do they get a new one? Do they just add pages to it somehow?

TravelGov78 karma

We no longer add pages to passports. You will need to apply for a new passport if yours fills up. You can request a 52 page passport book at no extra cost when you apply. We hope you continue to travel and enjoy your passport!

oonniioonn15 karma

We no longer add pages to passports.

Why not? I always thought American passports with a ton of extra pages added looked hilarious.

ITXorBust3 karma

They'd only make them 52 pages anyway, and you can get those by default now. In fact, as far as I can tell they just send you a 52 pager no matter what you order.

TravelGov2 karma

You can select whether you want a standard book or large book at the top of your application form, unless you are applying at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas where you automatically receive a 52 page book.

TravelGov2 karma

The decision to discontinue this service was made to enhance the security of the passport and to abide by international passport standards. If you are a frequent traveler, we recommend requesting a 52-page book at no extra cost next time you renew.

ImanAstrophysicist34 karma

Hello. A friend of mine was asked to surrender his passport while on a Mediterranean Cruise. I told him that I would NEVER surrender my passport for any reason. What would you have told him?

TravelGov2 karma

Some cruises will ask for your passport to expedite the process going through immigration. Before surrendering a passport first ask why it is necessary, when you will get it back, and what are the options if you don’t give them your passport. Never give your passport to a person or business that you do not trust completely.

antique_land32 karma

What exactly does you job involve, day to day?

TravelGov60 karma

My job primarily involves directing the activities of the organization and providing support to the people who actually adjudicate and issue your passport. This involves a number of meetings, emails, and coordination activities.

I also represent the organization in external meetings, such as those with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and foreign governments.

cresloyd29 karma

Given that it takes several weeks to process a passport renewal, and I have to send off my current passport with the renewal application, would I not be able to travel abroad while I wait for my new passport to arrive?

And what would happen to people who live in one of those states whose licenses are not yet REAL ID compliant, and their passport is about to expire? Will they still be able to get through TSA checkpoints for inside-USA air travel somehow, if they send off their old passport and are waiting for their new passport to be issued?

TravelGov37 karma

You cannot travel internationally without a passport. We recommend applying early during our slow season for faster processing. Our slow season is from September to January. Current routine processing times are approximately 4-6 weeks and expedited processing times are approximately 2-3 weeks.

If you have a true emergency, we have 27 passport agencies that offer emergency passport services for travelers departing in less than 2 weeks.

EDIT: You do have to submit your current passport with your application. You will need to time your renewal in a way that works with your travel plans using one of the options listed above.

rjkmasunu24 karma

How may I apply for a US passport for my daughter(minor) and claim US citizenship for her through my citizenship? Do I apply for her passport here in American Samoa or do I have to apply it at the US embassy in Samoa?

TravelGov27 karma

She can apply for her passport at a passport acceptance facility in American Samoa. Depending on her age, you may need to comply to the more stringent process for minors (information available here).

You can find passport acceptance facilities near you using this link.

MadCatzPlayer216 karma

I obtained a NEXUS card in 2012 for travel between the US and Canada. In 2015, I was convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor. Am I now unable to ever be in the NEXUS program again due to having a criminal record?

TravelGov4 karma

The NEXUS card program is managed by our colleagues in U.S. Customs and Border Protection. You will need to refer to them for information about eligibility criteria. Here is their website.

lindsayadult15 karma

When I travel internationally, if my passport is expiring within 6 months, they don't let me on a plane... what's the point of the expiration if they won't let me travel within 6 months of the expiration date?

TravelGov5 karma

Your passport is still valid up until its expiration date. The rules you are referencing are put in place by your destination. Some destinations require 6 months validity remaining and some only require your passport to be valid for your trip. You can check the rules for your destination here.

Edsalvato12 karma

Hi Brenda - I'm a big fan! Will your agency participate at the major travel shows again in 2018 (NY Times, Travel & Adventure)? Thanks!

TravelGov17 karma

I am planning to be at the New York Times Travel Show this year and I hope to see you there!

passportfan12 karma

Brenda, Do you have any new information on the buy outs for members of passport services?

TravelGov12 karma

We don't have any information at this time, but we will share it once we have it.

biffbagwell12 karma

Do you database and share my information about travel with other government agencies? What information do you collect on me when I pass through a port of entry?

HatesMillennials6 karma

The border is controlled by DHS (specifically CBP and HSI) not Dept. of State. State just issues the passports.

TravelGov4 karma

Yes - DHS manages the borders.

countredrider10 karma

My question: I live in Germany and my passport will expire while I'm here in 2018. My German residents permit is also attached to my US passport. How can I go about renewal here with my residence permit attached and all? Thanks.

TravelGov3 karma

We can't speak to Germany's residency permit procedures, but you can renew your U.S. passport while abroad by visiting your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Here are the instructions specific to Germany.

passportfan7 karma

Is there any updates to the hiring freeze for Passport Services? Many agencies are struggling with understaffed offices?

TravelGov10 karma

No updates at this time.

jenjulia7 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! I'm an avid traveler and just recently renewed my passport to a 52-page passport book, hoping to fill it before it expires in 10 years! My question for you would be do you get to use your passport frequently enough to fill? Do you enjoy traveling internationally yourself? Is there somewhere that you enjoy going more than others and is there somewhere that you are absolutely wouldn't go? Thanks!

TravelGov2 karma

One of the best parts of my job is visiting my 29 agencies, located in 27 cities around the United States. Although I don’t use my passport book for those travels, I always use my passport card as ID on domestic flights. We live in a beautiful country and everyone should make an attempt to see it.

I have served in Europe (Spain) and the Middle East (Egypt, Israel, Jerusalem) and I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences. I have traveled to Asia (Japan, China, Turkey, Jordan), Europe (UK, Germany, Spain, Greece, France), Mexico, Aruba, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and each nation and continent I visited provided me with new ideas and new experiences – and the opportunity to interact with interesting people.

With respect to places I do not recommend – If the State Department issues a travel warning, I take it very seriously. I prefer to enjoy spine-tingling adventures in a movie theater not in real life.

scarymoose7 karma

How do you fit your title onto a business card?

TravelGov2 karma

Lots of folks ask me that question – we just stack the title and use very little font size.

CypripediumCalceolus6 karma

What's the best way to keep a passport safe and private when traveling? I don't want it to be scanned or stolen. Foil wrappers, hotel safes, fanny packs, those things?

TravelGov15 karma

The best way to keep your passport safe depends on the circumstances of your travel. There is no one product or practice that will keep your passport safe 100% of the time.

If you are going to climb a mountain, I would suggest leaving your passport back at the lodge. If you are traveling in a country with stringent security requirements, you may want to keep your passport on your person at all times in case you are asked to present it.

You should always be aware of the location of your passport. Avoid using any substance that would impair your judgement or awareness. You are a stranger in a strange land and need to maintain heightened awareness at all times.

If your passport is ever lost or stolen while you're abroad, you will need to visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to have it replaced (which may put a real damper on your vacation).

davidicon1686 karma

I heard you can no longer add pages to a US passport? If so, why was this stopped? I travel a lot for business and will definitely finish out my passport well before the 10 year expiry. Getting a new passport isn't a huge burden but I have to get new visas for all the countries I travel to as well as resubmit for a new APEC card which does take a while.

TravelGov2 karma

This is correct. We no longer add pages to U.S. passports to enhance the security of the passport and to abide by international passport standards. If you know you will be traveling a lot, we recommend requesting a 52 page book for no extra cost.

In regards to the visas, some countries will let you enter if you present both your new passport and old passport with valid visa. This isn't true for every country, so check your destination's policies before traveling.

123DecryptMe5 karma

I lost my passport. Do I really have to pay full price again or is there anything I can do?

TravelGov4 karma

You will need to pay the appropriate fees when obtaining a replacement passport.

drchopsalot4 karma

Pineapple on pizza or no?

TravelGov2 karma

Pineapple on pizza is the best. Of course pizza is almost always wonderful!

Gyzis4 karma

What would the ideal path be in order to eventually work at the Department of State?

TravelGov26 karma

There are two major pathways to working at the State Department. The first is the Foreign Service Officer Examination. In addition, it is possible to be selected for employment as a Foreign Service Specialist in fields such as security, medicine, building maintenance, and IT.

The second path is to apply through the civil service portal. Virtually all employees of Passport Services are civil servants.

I refer you to the State Department careers website.

Good luck! I've been working here for 44 years and it's the best place to work in the world.

completerandomness2 karma

Sign up for a summer internship! It's a great way for young Americans to get a taste of impactful government work and a clearance.

TravelGov2 karma

Another great tip! Here is more information about different types of State Department internships.

JReedNet2 karma

I heard the passport card is going out of favor and is actually no longer accepted at certain land entry points along the Canadian border. Is this true?

TravelGov2 karma

There have been no recent changes to the passport card. It is still accepted at land borders.

modes22-1 karma

It has to be hard to work in the government with the current administration. Does it feel less stable since Jan 20th? Do you feel like you have to do anything differently?

What's the main difference you've noticed and is it harder to work as a public servant with the amount of discord that currently exists?

TravelGov12 karma

We are committed to serving the American public in accordance with our mission.