By Cat Zuniga
Changes are coming to your passport in 2017, but don’t panic! Your book will still be blue (or red or green, depending where you’re from).
While this news flash may seem dull compared to all the other exciting travel news out there, as destinations around the world become more popular and we’re drawn to explore the globe, a valid passport is as necessary to our way of life as a good suitcase. Given that, here’s what you should know.
Applications will increase (again). In 2016, we encouraged all travelers to get a head start on renewing their passports, because we were right around the 10-year mark for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a 2007 mandate that required Americans entering the U.S. by air from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport. Ten years later, those documents are expiring, since adult passports last for 10 years, while passports for children under the age of 15 have a five-year lifespan. This means a spike in applications is on its way. In addition, the 2018 implementation of the Real ID Act has led to increased applications from travelers unsure about whether their driver’s license will be accepted as a valid form of ID for domestic travel. In all, officials are expecting 20 million passport renewal requests in 2017 alone. Yikes!
Secure passports (well, more …). If you already thought the U.S. passport was the most secure in the world, think again. Despite what Deputy Assistant Secretary Karen Christensen said in the last BHTP podcast, we’re a bit behind other countries in the world in biometric security, though we keep making small advances. New, secure passports have been discussed since 2015, but they’ll actually debut in late 2017. These next-generation passports will have a small, embedded data chip on the information page protected by polycarbonate coating. This advancement will help protect your passport from getting wet or bending – and should your passport get stolen, the chip will protect your information from identity theft. Passport numbers will also be laser-cut as tapered, perforated holds through the pages, and the artwork will get an upgrade, with a watermark, optically variable links, and tactile features.
New application rules = stricter rules. Beginning Nov. 1, 2016, glasses were no longer allowed in passport photos, due to glare from the lenses that resulted in a bunch of rejected photos. Unless you have a medical condition and a doctor’s note, you will have to leave your glasses in their case. Since this is a new rule, the State Department is allowing applicants to resubmit their photos without having to pay another application fee. Expect continued guidance on proper photo protocol, as officials try to inform nonconforming applicants sooner while they become more strict and direct with their instructions.
Page numbers. In effort to help people keep track of how much time they have left before they run out of space on their pages, the new passports will include page numbers. I’m curious to see how this one plays out, because not everyone travels enough to use all their pages, and officials tend to just open your book and stamp anywhere. Apparently, controlling the pages makes sense. We’ll wait and see on this one.
Easier renewal. Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, has confirmed that the passport-renewal process will be getting a makeover as well. A new platform will allow people to renew online. This means no more rushing over to the photo booths at Rite-Aid to take pictures, and waiting in amusement-park-style lines to renew. The ability to submit applications through apps while taking selfies is definitely on its way.
With all of this exciting new information and updates, there are always some hiccups to be had. That means it’s extra-important to protect your trip and you belongings every time you plan to travel. Our friends at BHTP can do just that for you! Take extra measures to protect yourself and be smart about it. BHTP offers many different options to protect you and your loved ones while traveling. Contact your travel professional to learn more.
Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.