GETTING A PASSPORT FOR TRAVEL
For an active vacation you still need the primary 4 items: passport, plain ticket, appropiate clothing, and equipment.
A valid passport is the only legal form of identification recognized around the world.Your driver's license does not do much for you in Italy or aboard, when I travel around I carry my Italian ID and my American Passport at all times. This makes document security much more important and the need to have copies of everything.
You cannot cross an international border without a passport. You can cross through parts of the EU and never have to show, but there are always spot checks even crossing from Austria to Italy. You must present to get into Great Britain and Ireland, Switzerland and Eastern Europe. This is due to the increased security for terrorist and the control of illegal immigration. These rules have cut done on the number of people living aboard without proper papers so you can no longer be an expat you are either on vacation or registerd with appropriate documents.
Getting a passport is easy, but it takes some time to complete the process. Make sure you start the paperwork at least six weeks in advance of your departure. It'll probably only take 3-4 weeks (and there are ways to expedite it—for a fee), but don't tempt fate.
This process involves showing up in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility (which includes many major post offices, some libraries, courthouses, and other government buildings; the list is at travel.state.gov). You cannot apply for a passport by mail, do not get caught by flake sites offering this service.
Since all the current details on how to apply for a passport are so readily available on-line, there's little reason for me to rehash it all here—just go to the excellent State Department site (travel.state.gov) and it'll walk you through the process. But here are a few useful pointers:.
You'll need two identical passport-size photos (2" X 2"), which you can have taken at any photo shop or most major chain drug stores. You cannot use the ID photo's from one of those photo vending machines. You'll need extras to apply for an International Driving Permit and student or teacher identification cards. Take a couple of the photos with you just in case you lose your passport and need amn emergency replacement.
You'll need to bring proof of U.S. Citizenship. This usually means a previous passport or a certified birth certificate with both parent's full names (not a photocopy, but a certified copy and a registrar's seal—usually raised or embossed—and signature; you can order one from the state in which you were born). If you are a citizen but were not born in the U.S., you can bring a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Certification of Birth, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Certificate of Citizenship. Note you must also bring a photo ID, so if you don't have an old passport, you must bring a driver's license or equivalent (military ID or other government-issued photo ID)
When you go to apply for your passport, bring two checks. For reasons known only to the federal bureaucracy, you have to fill out two separate checks (one is an Application Fee, the other an Execution Fee). Silly? Of course. Still, its impossible to argue with the federal government: just bring two checks.
You'll be given a choice of a Passport Book, and Passport Card, or both. What you want is the "Passport Book." This is the traditional, old school passport. The "Passport Card" was essentially designed as a low-cost alternative ($55 versus $135) for truckers and others whose business constantly takes them back and forth across the border with Mexico or Canada (though it is also valid for Bermuda and most Caribbean countries, so it is used by some cruisers and snowbirds who don't bother traveling anywhere else). You cannot use a Passport Card to go to Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, or anywhere else besides the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is, therefore, pretty pointless.
What if I need a passport in a hurry, there are three ways to get it faster:
- You can pay the government a $60 expedite fee and they'll try to get the passport to you in 2–3 weeks.
- You can pay for an expedite service like RushMyPassport.com (see to the box on the right), where fees start at $99 to get a passport in 8–12 business days (up to $299 for 24-hour service).
- If if is a life-or-death emergency, the government can get you a passport in 24–48 hours, but you have to apply in person at a Passport Agency (there are only 25 of those in the US) and bring poof of the emergency. This applies for the lose of passport while traveling, the US Embassy will issue you an emergency passport, you just need to go to the closest agency.
PASSPORT SECURITY WHILE TRAVELING
Make three photocopies of your passport (the open page with all the personal data, not the cover). This is the main item on your backup info sheet (along with other IDs, the numbers to call if you lose your credit cards, etc.). Keep one copy with you at all times—separate from the original—another copy hidden in your bag somewhere, and leave the third copy at home with a trusted friend or neighbor who can fax it to you in case of emergency.
Keep your passport with you at all times securely in your money belt. The only times to give it up are at the bank for the tellers to photocopy when they change your traveler's checks, at borders for the guards to peruse (this includes giving it to the conductor on overnight train rides), when any police or military personnel ask for it, and briefly to the concierge when you're checking into your hotel (see next).
Hotel front desks will often want to keep your passport overnight. They have to register you with the police, and they like to pile all the passports in a drawer until the evening so they can do all the guests' slips at once. Smile and ask politely whether they can do their paperwork on the spot or at least let you come by in 15 minutes or so, after you check into your room, freshen up, and are on your way out to hit the town. I always tell them I need it to go exchange money at the bank, whether that's actually my plan or not.
If you lose your passport on the road, go directly to the nearest U.S. consulate (do not pass go, do not collect $200). Bring all forms of identification you have, and they'll get started on generating you a new passport. Needless to say, this is a hassle that should be avoided at all costs. I've listed Italy's consulates and consular agencies to the right; get updated information on them at usembassy.state.gov
A visa is an official stamp or piece of paper granting a foreign national the right to enter a country. (It comes from the French, visée, because back in the day it meant that an official had "looked" over your travel and identification documents—precursors to passports).
A valid passport is the only documentation an American needs to visit Italy (or any other Western European country for that matter). Your passport will be stamped wherever you enter Europe with a temporary tourist visa that's good for 90 days of travel within the E.U.
If you plan to stay in Italy longer that 90 days, contact that country's consulate in the United States before you leave to get a specific visa, or any U.S. consulate once you are abroad. In practice, they usually don’t care if tourists spend five, six, seven months here.
At one time you could routinely exceed the 90 days (I have known people living in Italy 8 years without proper documents and no one ever questioned them). However, with the new levels of security controls and even just functioning you can not longer be a lost citizen in Western Europe. You are an illegal immigrant when your 90 days are up and you will be treated as such.
How to find consulates and embassies in Italy
U.S. consulates in Italy
Whenever you get in serious trouble abroad—like losing a passport—you head for the nearest U.S. Consulate—not the embassy. Embassies are for governmental negotiations; consulates are for helping citizens.
(Note: leave large bags and any electronic devices—cellphone, iPod, cameras, etc.—at your hotel, as they are not allowed inside embassy and consular building. Also plan on spending your day getting your business done.)
Via Vittorio Veneto 121, 00187 Roma
Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–12:30pm
Lungarno Vespucci 38, 50123 Firenze
Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–12:30pm
Via Principe Amadeo 2/10, 20121 Milano
Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–noon
Piazza della Repubblica , 80122 Napoli
Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8am–noon
Venice (Consular agency)
Venice Marco Polo Airport
General Aviation Terminal
Viale Galileo Galilei 30, 30030 Tesserra (VE)
Open: by appointment only
Palermo (Consular agency)
Via Vaccarini 1, 90143 Palermo
Open: by appointment only Mon–Fri 9am–12:30pm
Genoa (Consular agency)
Via Dante 2, 16121 Genova
Open: Mon–Thurs 11am–3pm
For more info: usembassy.state.gov
US State Department (travel.state.gov) - This Web site is the best thing the government has ever done for travelers. You can download passport applications, research potential visa requirements, read consular fact sheets and travel warnings on the countries you wish to visit, and find out all about the services available to US citizens abroad. Great set of links to other governmental and non-governmental travel sites, too.
Embassy World (www.embassyworld.com) - A nifty little Web site that links you to every embassy and consulate Web site out there, so an Aussie can find not only the Australian consulate in Rome, Italy, but also Italy's consulate in Canberra so he can ring up about visa requirements.
U.S. Embassies (usembassy.state.gov)- Direct links to individual US Embassy Web sites around the globe.