If you're planning a trip to a sunny beach in Mexico, or your favorite mountain resort in Canada, you may need a passport.
US citizens traveling by air anywhere outside of the US, with the exception of US Territories, are required to present a valid passport. Currently, all that is needed for US citizens traveling to and from Canada and Mexico by land or sea is a valid driver's license and birth certificate. These rules also apply to travel to Bermuda and the Caribbean. However, beginning June 1, 2009, the US Department of State will require that all persons traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda to present a valid passport.
Your new passport will contain an RFID chip in the rear cover that will hold the same information (name, date and place of birth, gender, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number) that appears on the biographical page, as well as a digital image of the bearer's photograph. The intent is to prevent alteration and/or fraudulent use of the document, and the Department of State has incorporated technology to help prevent "skimming", or unauthorized reading of the data. If you have an older passport that does not have an embedded chip, it will be accepted until it expires.
Obtaining a Passport for the First TimeIf you have not previously applied for a passport, you must apply in person at a Passport Acceptance facility. You can find more information at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html.
Renewing a PassportIf you already have a passport, you can renew by mail. The forms and instructions are available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html
You should allow at least four to six weeks for processing of your passport application. Should you run short of time, expedited processing is available for an additional fee. Updated processing times are posted at http://travel.state.gov/passport/processing/processing_1740.html