You're thinking about a trip to South America. That's great!
Now you are faced with all the things you'll need to do before you travel. Put simply, these are:
- getting the right travel documents
- deciding on a destination
- making travel arrangements
- preparing yourself for travel
We'll address each in turn, beginning here and continuing on the following pages.
Travel Documents - Passports
If you do not already have a passport, get that first.
Although there are ways to expedite getting a passport when you need to travel quickly, most passport processing can take up to up to six weeks. Give yourself plenty of time. Begin the process several months before you travel. It's a good idea to do this six months or earlier since you may also need visas, depending where you travel, and getting them will require your passport. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than having your departure day getting closer and wondering if you'll get your papers in time.
Each country will have different requirements and time frames for getting your all-important passports and visas. You get that information directly from the embassy or consulate of the country you plane to visit. You'll find contact information at Embassies of South America.
Applying for a US passport is not difficult, but make sure you have all the required material before you go to a passport office or acceptance facility.
There are passport acceptance facilities in your area. These include Federal, state and probate courts, many post offices, some libraries and a number of county and municipal offices. You'll fill out an application, available at these locations, and then submit it in person, with proof of citizenship, which includes a certified birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship. If you do not have these, there are alternate acceptable forms of identification which will be listed on the application form. In addition, you will need to show proof of identification, which may be naturalization or citizenship papers, current driver's license, military or government id, or airline id. Social Security cards are not accepted although you will be asked to provide your number.
You will also need two identical 2x2 full face photographs in which your face takes most of the space. These may be in color or black and white, and please try to look as you normally do. You may wear your prescription glasses if you wear them as a rule, but not sunglasses. Do not wear a hat or a uniform. Vending machine photos aren't acceptable.
Finally, you will need money. Depending on the location's capabilities, you may pay with a major credit card, debit card, cash, check or money order. It's a good idea to check on the fee and the payment method before you go.
You may apply for a passport for a child under twelve who will not need to be present at the passport office unless specifically asked to be there.
If you need your passport in under five weeks, you may pay an extra fee and ask for an expedited process. However, you will need to have your tickets and reservations to do this. You may also expedite renewal of your passport by mail.
For precise instructions for US citizens, please see the requirements of the US Department of State on the Passports, Visas and Legal Matters page.
Page 2: Choose Your Destination
Page 3: Travel Arrangements
Page 4: Prepare Yourself for Travel