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Understanding red tape can make for an enjoyable trip

I was asked the other day : “We’re thinking about traveling to Germany and Austria to check out their Christmas markets. Our friends mentioned something about a passport card and also said that we need to register our travel plans. We don’t have a clue about what they’re talking about. Can you help?”

You bet I can. But first let me say that is a great time of the year to visit the Old World.

The Kristkindl markets in Munich, Rothenberg and Nuremberg are just wonderful but I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to visit Austria during the winter holidays.

I guess it’s time to plan a European holiday excursion for 2011.

The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry.

It is more convenient and less expensive than traditional passport book.

The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.

So unless you’re taking a roundtrip transatlantic cruise you do need a passport book.

Currently all U.S. citizens need a passport book for any air travel abroad and as afore mentioned this includes travel to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

In addition to a passport some countries require an entrance visa but Germany and Austria are not on that list.

If you hold a passport, be sure to check the expiration date as some nations require that it is valid not only for the duration of your visit but also anywhere from three to six months after your scheduled departure from their country.

Again this is not an issue in Western Europe but in other parts of the world you must watch your passport expiration date carefully!

As of Wednesday June 30, 2010, the U.S. State Department reports that the processing time for a routine application is approximately 4-6 weeks from the time of application.

Since passport processing times can vary I recommend applying at least three months before any scheduled international travel.

If you need your passport quicker your travel agent can help!

Travel agents have access to special firms that help expedite the process but here’s the catch. There’s an additional handling fee.

Often we agents can help many travelers get their passport in less than a week sometimes as quickly as 48 hours!

Passport prices are increasing on July 13. Adult first-time passports will increase from $95 plus the $25 execution fee to $135.

The U.S. Passport Book and U.S. Passport Card for adults are valid for 10 years. Rush down to the post office tomorrow!

Registering your trip is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to or living in a foreign country.

Travel registration allows you to record information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the State Department can assist you in case of an emergency.

When you sign up for this service you will automatically receive the most current information they have about the country where you will be traveling or living.

You will also receive updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts (where appropriate). You only need to register once. Once registered you can update your travel plans as required.

By connecting with our government’s Travel Registration program officials will be better able to assist you emergencies such as if you lose your passport or it is stolen while you are abroad.

They also assist U.S. citizens in other emergencies, such as in natural disasters.

For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, they assisted in the evacuation of over 16,700 U.S. citizens.

In 2006 during the civil unrest in Lebanon nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens were helped and after the tsunami of 2004 assistance was provided for thousands more Americans.

The travel and contact information you enter into the Travel Registration program will make it easier for our consular officers in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones.

This is especially important during emergency situations when your family or friends in the U.S. are having problems trying to contact you with important news.

I believe that a well-informed traveler is both a better and a safer traveler. Once registered you will receive country-specific information, travel alerts, travel warnings, fact sheets and warning messages about your desired destinations.

These provide you with timely and accurate travel information about every country where you may travel.

They include reports on possible risks and security threats so that you can make informed decisions about your travel plans and activities.

Stay informed by connecting with the U.S. Travel Registration program so you can have safe and enjoyable travel experience.

For more information about passports and travel documentation contact your travel agent or provider and/or the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov. Happy travels!