Story courtesy of the Directorate of Human Resources, IMCOM HQ
ANSBACH, Germany (June 2, 2017) – The opportunity to travel is one of the benefits of serving overseas. Months can go into planning the perfect vacation. But there’s one step Military travelers often overlook that can end a vacation before it even starts, which can lose the Soldier thousands of dollars: having the correct passports.
People get confused because they don’t know the difference between a no-fee passport (red, official) and a fee passport (blue, tourist); and the difference can result in being denied entry into another country and the loss of thousands of dollars spent on a vacation.
No-fee passports are issued to military dependents so they can travel with their sponsor to a new OCONUS duty assignment. They look similar to the blue tourist passport. Nevertheless, a no-fee passport reads:
“This passport is valid only for use in connection with the bearer’s residence abroad as a dependent of a member of the American military or Naval forces on active duty outside the United States.”
An official (or no-fee) passport should not be used for leisure travel. Though some may have used official passports for leisure travel without incident, if a border control agent notices you are using an official (no-fee) passport, they can deny you entry to their country. It doesn’t matter if you have paid for a $3,000 non-refundable cruise – you will not be allowed to enter. And companies are not obligated to refund your money.
To add to the confusion, service members are generally not required to hold a passport when traveling to their OCONUS duty destination. They only need to show their orders and a military ID. That only authorizes them entry into the country of assignment – not any other country. Consequently, if a Soldier only has an official passport or just their ID card, they should obtain a tourist passport for leisure travel.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A TOURIST (FEE) PASSPORT IN THE US
To apply for a fee (tourist) passport in CONUS, do not go to your installation passport office. They are only authorized to process official (no-fee) passports. Application forms, along with instructions and pricing can be obtained at the U.S. post office or from the Department of State at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html. Please read carefully to ensure you understand and comply with all instructions.
Passport applications must be submitted in person at a passport acceptance facility if at least one of the following is true. If not true, you may be eligible to renew your passport by mail.
- You are applying for your first U.S. passport
- You are under age 16
- Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16
- Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
- Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago
The Department of State designates many post offices, clerks of court, public libraries and other state, county, township, and municipal government offices to accept passport applications on its behalf. You can search for a nearby passport accept facility at https://iafdb.travel.state.gov.
Tourist passports are a personal expense and not reimbursable as a PCS cost unless required as part of your official job. The cost ranges from $105 for a child under sixteen years of age, to $135 dollars for a first-time adult passport (16 years and older).
HOW TO OBTAIN A PASSPORT OVERSEAS
Applying for a U.S. passport outside the United States is different than applying inside the United States. If you wait until you arrive overseas to obtain a fee (tourist) passport; you will find it takes much longer.
For a first-time fee (tourist) passport you must apply in person at a U.S. Embassy, Consulate or at the Installation Passport Office. While the routine processing time in the U.S. is six to eight weeks (expediting is available for a fee), you may wait between three to six months if you wait to apply overseas where no expedited service is available.
If you have purchased airline tickets or planned a cruise that leaves in eight weeks and you do not have a tourist passport, chances are your passport will not be ready in time.
If you need a passport in a hurry, you will be required to travel to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at personal expense, provided they have an open appointment available.
For more on passports and obtaining them at USAG Ansbach, visit www.ansbach.army.mil/passport.html.