Help me get my first passport.
October 27, 2008 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 37-year-old American, about to get a passport for the first time for a trip in March, 2009 to Southern Sudan, with a little time in Uganda. Even though the trip is months away, I'd like to get my passport as soon as I possibly can, but I'm not sure what is the best way.

More details:

- I've never been trouble with the law.
- Every single member of my family that I have ever met or heard of was born in the United States and, other than military service, lived in the U.S. there whole lives.
- I live in Virginia and could drive to D.C. if I have to.
- I have a recent copy of my birth certificate.
- The trip is with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. The purpose of the trip is to "gain knowledge and understanding of the present issues prevalent in Sudan while raising awareness concerning the realities and the misconceptions about its land, people, resources, and conflicts."
- I will be staying in Sudan almost a week longer than the rest of the group, because I'm meeting a group of others from Virginia who are interested in building a school in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.

Thanks for your help, and please let me know if I've failed to provide relevant information.
posted by 4ster to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
I'm not sure I understand what your question is here. Just apply for a passport. The "how" is easy enough to find on Google, but here you go.
posted by amro at 11:49 AM on October 27, 2008


Getting a passport isn't hard. I applied for my passport at my local library; see if your library offers this service.
posted by at 11:50 AM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: I got my passport for the first time in... um... March? It took me something like two weeks to receive it in the mail, nonexpedited. I had no plans to travel any time soon.

My experience will certainly not reflect everyone else's, but processing time may be shorter than you think.
posted by Madamina at 11:51 AM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: Your making this more complicated than it needs to be. Your travel plans are irrelevant to applying for a passport. No one is going to ask you where you're planning to travel.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:52 AM on October 27, 2008

Ditto to everything above, and:

1. In addition to libraries, as mentioned, many post offices offer the service. Also, some post offices will take your photo (see #2).

2. Make sure you have not only your IDs (as described at the official site) but also your photos and your fees — there are two separate fees (not including the possible cost of photos).
posted by hatta at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2008

Yeah, it really isn't a plate of beans. Fill out the paperwork, make sure your passport photos are the correct size (you can always have them taken at a post office in your area that specializes in this), send in the paperwork, and two or three weeks later, you'll get your passport.
posted by rtha at 11:56 AM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great help. What I should have said earlier is that I've had services like recommended to me for expediting the process. Are services like this worth it?

Thanks again.
posted by 4ster at 12:02 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: Are you maybe confusing the passport application process with getting a visa to enter Sudan? Getting a passport is easy and they don't care where you're going. The latter can be confusing and time consuming (so says a friend who has traveled extensively through Sudan) and best to get going on it straight away, if the group you are traveling with is not taking care of this for you. Info here.

posted by meerkatty at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are services like this worth it?

Probably not, especially if you don't need your passport right away. I didn't see how much the service cost on that website, but I imagine it might be more than just going to the post office or your library.
posted by at 12:05 PM on October 27, 2008

It's a really easy process. Just fill out the forms, attach your photo, take it and the proper identification to the local post office and mail it in.

You may want to look into the visa requirements for traveling to some of the countries you list. If you need an entry visa, it could take some time to get. The last time I looked (6+ years ago) there were very few countries that an American couldn't get into without a visa (like Russia) -- a U.S. Passport was enough. I don't know about Uganda and Sudan. The people who are putting your tour group together should know the answers to this and should be coordinating with you to get the proper documentation (like your Passport) so they can get your entry visa(s).

Oh yeah, avoid all the Passport scam-like sites online that charge a small fortune to expedite your passport. It's a crock of crap. You have plenty of time; use your local post office.
posted by camworld at 12:08 PM on October 27, 2008

If you are paranoid (like me), your new passport will have one of those RFID chips in it, which are notoriously insecure and potentially a way your identity could be stolen without you even being aware of it. Before traveling with your new passport, disable the chip (Google it) without changing the physical appearance of the passport itself.

I renewed my passport in 2002 specifically because I wanted one that DID NOT have the new RFID chip. When I renew it again in 2012, I'll make sure my RFID chip is non-functioning before I travel anywhere. The safest way I've seen discussed is taking a small hammer to it (Oops! Darn, I must have sat on it one too many times. Sorry you'll just have to process me manually," I will say to the overbearing TSA employee).

I've seen some pretty amazing tech-savvy scam artists in airports, especially in places like Russia and most third-world countries. It would not surprise me in the least to learn there are gangs of identity thieves staking out their airports with remote RFID readers, stealing the identities of American tourists as they pass through. Disabling the RFIS chip is the only way you can protect yourself. Don't believe the party-line crap from the TSA and other "experts." The RFID chips in passports is NOT a secure product, no matter how much "testing" they've done.
posted by camworld at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2008

Seriously, You don't need any stinkin' expidition service. I applied at the post office, they took my photo, I plunked down my money, and I got my passport in just under three weeks. This was this August, for whatever that matters.

Point being is that the post office route is plenty fast.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2008

Are services like this worth it?

These services are great for people under time pressure. You aren't at all. There's ntohing unusual about your situation, either. Just apply at the post office.
posted by Perplexity at 12:26 PM on October 27, 2008

The services you've had recommended to you are usually far more expensive. When it comes to getting your passport, using them would only make sense if you're going to be leaving a couple weeks from now rather than four months. It's not worth it. Doing things the regular way through the post office will only take a couple weeks.

However, that's when it comes to your regular passport. Getting your visa is slightly different -- there's a difference between a Passport and a Visa; a Passport is just sort of like an international ID card, and the Visa is the specific paperwork you need to be able to enter and move around in a specific country. Some countries require a U.S. resident to have both a passport AND a visa to enter their borders, and some only require a U.S. resident to have a passport.

Since you're traveling through the Methodist Church, I'd wager that someone with the church is coordinating the trip, and can advise you whether you need a visa, or whether just having a passport is okay.

When it comes to whether or not you'd be accepted, you have no trouble whatsoever that I can see. I've had to process visa applications several times for two different jobs, and each time the only things the country they're trying to enter really cares about is a) do they have a return ticket home, b) do they have a place to stay while they're there, and c) do they have insurance. The citizenship status of their parents never entered into it at all.

Check with the General Board of Global Ministries about whether they're handling the visa part (...Say, I think I temped in the New York office once -- nice people), but as for the passport, don't bother with the quick service -- just go to your local post office and do it there. It'll take a couple weeks, but you've got PLENTY of time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: My parents recently got their passports in about 10 days, they applied just this month. I got mine this summer and it was about 2 weeks wait. Just go the regular route and skip paying extra $$, you should get it super fast as long as there are not flags on your record for some reason. Also: you don't have to tell them where you are going if you are concerned that will put a flag on it (even though there is a spot on the app for this information).

You will need a passport before you can get a special Visa, although I do not know if this is required for Sudan. The passport application process should be quick regardless.
posted by sararah at 1:14 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: I think you're confused.

Being issued a passport has, surprisingly, nothing to do with travel. It is issued by the US governemtn and is proof of US citizenship, and thus, proof of your right to re-enter the USA if you do travel. However, you can get one regardless of your travel plans; you're entitled to one.

So go down to the post office with your birth certificate and apply for one. People do this routinely every day. It will take three weeks or less at this time of year.

OK, so that's Part One. Once you have your passport, you move on to Part Two.

To travel to Sudan as a US citizen, you will need a pre-departure Sudanese visa. This is issued by the Sudan government, and clears you for entry into Sudan and determines how long you have their permission to stay there.

You need to apply to the Sudanese consulate in Washington DC for a visa. The US Department of State has excellent information on travel in Sudan and visa requirements, as well as contact details for the consulate.

Apply for this visa as soon as you have your passport. You cannot apply for it without a passport.

For Uganda, you do not need to pre-apply for a visa before arrival. They will look at your passport and stamp it when you arrive. (This is how visas are managed nearly everywhere, like say most of Europe.) You do, however, need to arrive in Uganda with proof you have been vacinated against yellow fever. Again, the State Department is your friend here.

So in short:

1/ Get your passport
2/ Apply for a Sudanese visa
3/ Get vaccinated for yellow fever for Uganda
4/ Do not travel to Israel prior to visiting Sudan
5/ Travel safely
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2008 [6 favorites]

you should be more worried about the visa - not your passport. It's good that you live close to DC - try going to the Embassy of Sudan.

Embassy of the Republic of Sudan
2210 Massachusetts Ave
Washington DC 20008

p: 202.338.8565

Note that,

"Health Regulations

A foreign visitor to Sudan must provide on arrival and official health certificate for AIDS and Ebola and a valid international certificate of vaccination. This should include vaccination against yellow fever and cholera if arriving from endemic areas, as well as vaccination against other infectious diseases, depending on the outbreak of such diseases locally or abroad. This certificate is not required for children under one year of age. Infants blue the age of six months of age must provide and AIDS health certificate.

Tons of other info on their site, but it may take a few trips. When I applied for a visa to Syria (10 years ago) it was an annoying process, and required a few trips to the Embassy.

Good luck.
posted by nomad73 at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2008

You may also want to keep an eye on State department Advisories and Warnings as well as the Healthy Travel guide from CDC

also, ditto what DarlingBri said.

Bon Voyage!
posted by pointystick at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2008

When I went to Southern Sudan last year, I got a visa from the Embassy of Southern Sudan in Nairobi, Kenya.

Officially Sudan is still one country, but the South has its own government etc now and has set up its own 'embassy' in Kenya and has run a parallel immigration service of sorts. If you are going into the south via the North, you will need a visa for the North, but I flew in directly to Juba.

It took the usual couple of photos, the fee, the form, and was ready within 24 hours. Not sure if it is any more difficult for US passport holders (maybe a higher fee).

I think technically you are supposed to have a proper visa from the official country of Sudan, but many people don't. This situation could have changed, or could change rapidly.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:25 PM on October 27, 2008

I've entered Uganda by land on a US Passport three times and just got 7 day transit visas on arrival. They never asked me for my yellow fever vaccination proof. The visas on arrival are just a small stamp, nothing fancy. If you get a visa in advance you usually get a nice big sticker. There's tons of foreigners traveling, living and volunteering in Uganda, you'd be surprised.

If you're going with a group they should have the information for you and might even be arranging the visas you need. Just get your passport, don't pay extra for any services, and talk to your group organizer for visa details.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:15 PM on October 27, 2008

Just do it by mail. It took us a week door to door to get my daughter's. No need to expedite.

You may want to drive up to get your visas if you can.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:29 PM on October 27, 2008

I'll make sure my RFID chip is non-functioning before I travel anywhere.

I wouldn't recommend that you or anyone else purposely invalidate their passport.

At least part of your passport-getting experience will be in person if you've never had a passport before.
posted by oaf at 12:22 PM on October 29, 2008

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