A U.S. passport provides a universally accepted method of verifying a person's identity and place of citizenship before allowing him to travel freely in a foreign country. When conflicts occur abroad, passports help individuals prove they are U.S. nationals with the right to travel back to the United States.
Passports are also required for all adults re-entering the United States, whether they are traveling by plane, boat or land transportation. While minors aged 16 and under are required to have passports for air travel, a birth certificate is usually sufficient for land or sea travel from most regions of the Western Hemisphere, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. A U.S. passport has 24 pages containing endorsements describing the individual's citizenship status, arrival and departure stamps for different countries, as well as an official photograph for visual identification.
Passports are obtained by applying at participating post offices, regional passport agencies and circuit court clerks' offices. Since every country has entry requirements, individuals typically begin the application process months or weeks in advance. For example, many trips require updated immunization records or official visas. When unexpected travel demands arise, individuals can pay higher fees to apply for an expedited passport. First-time passport owners and children must apply in person with verification documents, such as certified birth certificates.