My husband has a dream of a distant vacation. It's a beautiful dream, full of sun and warmth and activity and new cultural experiences. Every once in a while he'll browse those last minute vacation package sites seeing if some deal could make it happen. And every once in a while he'll see a deal that is almost do-able - and starts scheming to make it happen. But then he realizes the kids don't have valid passports, so, uh, never mind.
We remedied that part of the scenario this week by taking the kids to get passports. In a month or so we'll be able, from a travel document point of view at least, to think about and jump on a fabulous vacation deal in a distant land.
Paperwork and presence
Acquiring passports for the kids was not difficult, really. For us it was mostly a scheduling and logistical issue. We had the kids' birth certificates already, but When getting kids passports, both parents have to be present (with proper identification) to sign the application (hopefully heading off custodial interference issues). We had to find a time when we were both in town and available to go down to the post office to get all the paperwork done. That opportunity presented itself the day after we arrived home from vacation (ironically, in a foreign country): a Friday and neither my husband nor I had gone back to work yet.
Down at the post office, it took about half an hour to get everything done. The post office was even able to take the required photos. While I wouldn't say it was cheap to do all the kids at once, it's a once per five years cost (Kids passports are valid for five years, adults for ten).
Border crossing - or just getting a job
Border rules, even for travel to the closest neighbors of the United States, are changing. Our family enjoys camping in Canada and we can still cross the border with just birth cerificates for the kids - as long as we drive. If we were to fly in, we would need a passport. Rules for driving in will change in the next couple of years. If our family is to continue camping north of the border, passports are more than just a good idea. They will be a necessity.
In addition to travel, having a passport is generally a good idea, I think. When one is starting a new job, it's one of the accepted forms of documentation to verify citizenship for employment paperwork. Even if you never leave the country, a passport will be used. Alfs' passport will be good until he's 17. He'll almost certainly have a summer job in that time that will require identification.
Aside from the ability to travel abroad, having a passport is just a cool thing. After completing the kids' passport applications, the kids have been asking lots of questions about different countries and what it means to emmigrate and immigrate and get visas and just how one travels outside the borders of one's home countries. We've looked at maps and talked about languages. With merely submitting passport applications, we've expanded our kids' world of possibility.