My new passport arrived in the mail today, along with a few interesting warnings from the State Department.
The only warnings in my almost expired 10-year-old passport were, well, 10 years old: Don't bring plants or soil back to the U.S., don't deal drugs abroad, and a vague reminder to "contact the U.S. consul if you get into trouble."
It's 2007, and the warnings are a lot more specific. A flier that accompanied my new passport carried this stark message: "U.S. citizens who travel abroad to engage in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, child exploitation, and human trafficking, may be subject to arrest and prosecution upon their return to the United States."
We're taking a step in the right direction when warnings against international child exploitation and human trafficking get the same billing as drug trafficking. After all, trafficking in humans--whether adults or children--is the 3rd-highest grossing illegal enterprise on the planet (after drugs and guns).
The U.S. has strict laws against its citizens traveling to another country and engaging in child exploitation--including a penalty of 30 years in prison if you're convicted. The U.S. State Department website gives specifics along with trafficking FAQs. (Watch Dateline's undercover video that resulted in the arrest of a U.S. doctor in Cambodia.)
I needed a new passport because my old one had only 3 months left before it expired, and I'm going to Thailand next month. Thailand, like many countries, requires visitors to have at least 6 months remaining on their passports before entering the country.
If you need to renew or apply for a passport, allow plenty of time. The Passport Office is extremely busy because of the new travel requirements that went into effect this week; all U.S. citizens, including children, now need a passport to return to the U.S. by air, even from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Even with expedited service, it took 2 weeks to receive my passport (expedited service normally takes just a few days). Regular service can take 8 weeks or more during busy periods.
So if you plan to travel soon, apply or renew now. And if you don't plan to travel soon, why not think about it? Your passport will come with the same promise that mine came with: the promise of 24 blank pages ready to be stamped with visas from all over the world. What could be better?
Now if I could just do something about that passport photo...