A U.S. passport is an official document issued by the U.S. government for citizens or nationals for use in traveling to foreign countries. It is a small document book about 3 1/2 inches by 5 inches in size that is required in most foreign countries for official entry. In most places the document allows a visitor to stay up to 90 days without requiring a visa. To obtain a passport, one needs to pay a fee and provide certain types of documentation, such as a birth certificate ( or other proof of U.S. citizenship) and a legal I.D. such as a driver's license. Two photos also are necessary.
On the Cover
Cover of a U.S. passport
The Great Seal of the United States appears in the center of the passport's cover. "United States of America" appears below the seal. Above the seal is the word "PASSPORT" in capital letters. A regular passport has a dark-blue cover. Diplomatic passports, issued to U.S. diplomats, are black and have the word "Diplomatic" at the top. An official passport is maroon in color and has the word "Official" displayed above everything else. Official passports are issued to members of Congress and employees of the United States.
The photo page is actually the inside cover of the passport, where you will find your photograph on the left and your personal data on the right. Included are your passport number, legal name, date of birth, gender, birthplace, date of issue and expiration date. Most regular passports are good for 10 years. Machine-readable type, giving your full name, date of birth and passport number, appears at the bottom.
The signature page is page one of the passport. It includes a message from the U.S. secretary of state in three languages--English, French and Spanish--saying that the signer is a citizen or a national of the United States. You should sign your passport on this page.
After the signature and photo pages are six pages of traveler's information directed toward the passport holder. The headings are as follows: Important Information, Before You Travel Abroad, While In The Foreign Country, Other Important Information, Important Things To Remember About Your Passport, and Personal Data and Emergency Contact Information. Read this information before you depart on your trip. Use a pencil to fill in the Personal Data and Emergency Contact Information page.
The rest of the passport contains blank pages where custom officials of foreign countries can place a stamp of entry or visa. In most countries, a valid passport will gain you admittance without a visa for a limited amount of time, usually 90 days. If you are staying for more than 90 days in a country, then you will need a visa, which is usually best acquired before you depart. When you finally make it back home to the U.S., a U.S. customs official will also stamp your passport book on one of these pages.
Henri Bauholz is a professional writer covering a variety of topics, including hiking, camping, foreign travel and nature. He has written travel articles for several online publications and his travels have taken him all over the world, from Mexico to Latin America and across the Atlantic to Europe.