Passports and Visas
Without the proper identification, you’re not going anywhere
When you’re traveling, it’s essential that you carry the appropriate credentials with you. It’s hard to imagine anything worse than arriving at your country of destination and being denied entrance because you didn’t have your travel documents in order.
A passport is a document that’s issued to you by your home country. It’s recognized around the world as proof of identification and citizenship. American passports are issued by the Passport Services of the Bureau of Consular Affairs within the Department of State and are valid for 10 years for everyone over the age of 16. Applying for a passport can be a lengthy process (the typical processing time is four to six weeks), so make sure to get a head start if you plan to travel out of the country.
If you’re studying abroad, you’ll definitely need to have an up-to-date passport. You may even need a passport if you’re flying to another country for Spring Break . Only Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean nations allow U.S. citizens to enter without a passport (depending on length of stay), and this may change in the future.
When you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to always carry two extra passport pictures, a piece of paper with your passport number, date and place of issue and a copy of your birth certificate. That way, if you ever lose your passport, you have everything you need to contact the nearest U.S. Consulate and apply to be issued a new one.
In addition to a passport, some countries require you to have a document called a visa (not to be confused with the brand of credit cards) if you plan to stay for an extended period of time (the cutoff is usually 90 days). Unlike passports, visas aren’t issued by your home country. Rather, they are issued by the country you plan to visit. They can come in the form of a stamp on your passport or a separate document.
Depending on the country you plan to visit, it can take quite a while to apply and be approved for a visa. To be safe, start the process at least a month or two before you plan to leave the United States (and earlier if possible).
Going Through Customs
After you arrive in another country, you’ll exit the plane and go through immigration and customs. You’ll be asked how long you plan to stay and what the purpose of your visit is. It’s a good idea to carry some documentation showing that you are officially enrolled at your host college. You’ll also be asked to show your passport and, if required, your visa. You’ll have to declare the items that you are carrying in your luggage. Usually, this isn’t a big deal (unless you’re trying to smuggle in restricted items, which we strongly urge you not to).
As long as you maintain a patient and respectful demeanor (and don’t crack any jokes about drugs or bombs), you shouldn’t have any problem clearing Immigration and Customs.