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Cuba Will No Longer Process U.S. Travel Visas

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Until a few weeks ago, travel restrictions to Cuba were looser than they’ve ever been, thanks to President Obama’s 2011 policy allowing tour companies to apply for travel licenses for “people-to-people” educational and cultural trips. But that’s all come to a halt now that the one bank responsible for processing these visas—M&T Bank in Buffalo, New York—has decided to stop offering its services to diplomatic missions. As of yet, no replacement bank has been found, despite efforts from both sides.

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How to Get a Visa Quickly

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Ever wonder how to get a visa in a hurry? When it comes to visa wrangling, I’m the kind of gal who likes to do hers nice and early. Obviously, that’s not always an option: earlier this month, I had to organize a last-minute work trip to Shanghai in three days.

It had been a while since we’ve covered passport and visa expediting agency Travisa, so I decided to give them a try (the $99 fee seemed a little steep, but I figured it was worth it—one false move on my Chinese visa application and I’d be out of luck). And thank goodness I did: when I arrived at Travisa’s New York office on a recent Wednesday, documents in hand, my case manager identified several crucial mistakes and omissions in my paperwork that would have sent me back to square one. By Friday—the day before my scheduled departure to Asia—I had my passport in my hot little hands.

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Department of Silver Linings: U.S. Passport Offices Remain Open Despite Government Shutdown

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After watching the federal government grind to an ignominious halt last night over the budget impasse, you could be forgiven for wanting to get out of town—as in, leave the country—for a while.

Fortunately, although national parks and monuments are now closed and thousands of FAA aviation safety inspectors have been furloughed (shudder), U.S. passport offices remain open and processing applications. If you’re traveling within the next two weeks and need to get a rush passport, you can still schedule an appointment at your nearest passport agency. Just call ahead to make sure that office isn’t located in a federal building. If it is, you may be out of luck.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo credit: Blue Jean Images / Alamy

The Doctor Recommends: Must Reads for the Week Ending March 8, 2013

Here are a few recent travel stories that piqued the interest of T+L's news team.

Clearly, we're not alone in our obsession with Hotel Tonight. Here, the folks at Hotel Chatter put together a few nifty tips for maximizing your deal on the last-minute booking app. (Nikki Ekstein)

What happens when American Airlines opens up its software to a SXSW-hosted hackathon? Hopefully, something cool, according to Skift. (N.E.)

Is free wifi the key to turning hotels into social hubs? Maybe, says Barbara De Lollis in USA Today, but we're still pining for free wifi in our rooms, thank-you-very-much. (N.E.)

Need another reason to heed the TSA's warnings against checking luggage you didn't pack yourself? You might wind up in an Argentine prison like Paul Frampton, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill physics professor who was just trying to help a friendly Czech bikini model he thought he'd met on the internet retrieve a bag with "sentimental value" in Bolivia. Maxine Swann's New York Times Magazine story must be read to be believed. (Matt Haber)

Also, check out this map of United States Passport Ownership that comes via one of the internet's best curators, Maria Popova. Now, go make sure your passport is up to date. (M.H.)

See a story you'd recommend to us? Send it via Facebook or Twitter.

How to Replace a Passport Lost While Abroad

How to Replace a Lost Passport

Q: What do I do if I lose my passport in a foreign country? —Amy Lin, Bridgewater, N.J.

A: Start by contacting the closest U.S. consulate or embassy to report your lost passport and have it invalidated to prevent identity theft. Ask what time the office opens, then visit first thing in the morning to submit forms DS-11 and DS-64 (available at travel.state.gov) and a copy of your outbound itinerary. If your passport was your only form of documentation, an interview may be necessary to confirm your identity. After paying a $135 fee and a short wait, you’ll be issued either a new passport that is good for 10 years or a temporary one that expires after three months, which should get you home without completely ruining your vacation.

Have a travel conundrum? The trip doctor is in. Send questions to tripdoctor@aexp.com, and reach Amy on Twitter @afarles.

Photo © iStockphoto

Owe The IRS? Bill Would Suspend Passport Rights For Delinquent Taxpayers

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A bill authored by a Southland lawmaker that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the U.S. is one step closer to becoming law.

Senate Bill 1813 was introduced back in November by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Los Angeles) to “reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes.”

After clearing the Senate on a 74 – 22 vote on March 14, SB 1813 is now headed for a vote in the House of Representatives, where it’s expected to encounter stiffer opposition among the GOP majority.

In addition to authorizing appropriations for federal transportation and infrastructure programs, the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or “MAP-21″ includes a provision that would allow for the “revocation or denial” of a passport for anyone with “certain unpaid taxes” or “tax delinquencies”.

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US Boosts Passport Fees

Associated PressU.S. citizenship is priceless to some, worthless to others. But now the State Department has a dollar figure: U.S. citizenship is worth $450. (...)

It's also getting more expensive if you want to keep your U.S. citizenship and need a passport to prove it. The application fee for a passport is jumping by 27 percent, from $55 to $70 with a 100 percent increase, from $20 to $40, in the passport security surcharge.

In addition to the increase in the application fee, the department will now charge $82 - up from nothing - to add new pages to a U.S. passport. It says the fee is needed to offset the cost of the pages, the time spent affixing the pages into the passport book, endorsing the passport and performing a quality-control check.

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New Passport Rules Start Today

Slipping over the border to Baja for the weekend, roadtripping to Quebec, or sailing to Bermuda for some pink sand-and-rum swizzle therapy won't be as easy as it used to be: Starting June 1, 2009, U.S. citizens seeking re-entry to the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean (excluding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) will be required to show valid passports, or “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative”-approved documents.

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