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Expect to wait for a passport

We can't make traveling easier in the age of terrorism. But if stricter new rules have left you, like millions of Americans, needing a passport, we can tell you how to get one:

First, make sure you have two photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship (a full and complete birth certificate) and a valid photo ID such as a driver's license. You also will need to fill out an application for a passport, specifically form DS-11. You can download the form from the Internet by typing "Download DS-11 form" into any search engine, such as Google or Yahoo. Forms also can be obtained by going to any passport acceptance center.

With your materials in hand, go in person to a passport acceptance center. One shouldn't be too hard to find; there are more than 7,000 throughout the country. They include many post offices, public libraries, federal and state courts and county and municipal offices. But call before you go to verify that the place you intend to go is, in fact, a passport acceptance center.

You will need to apply in person if your expired passport is not in your possession, was issued more than 15 years ago, was issued before you turned 16 or your valid passport has been lost, stolen or damaged.

It takes the consent of both parents or legal guardians for a child younger than 14 to receive a passport. All children must apply in person.

What changed

Starting Jan. 23 those flying between the United States and Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean can no longer simply show a photo ID and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Thanks to stricter national security rules they will need a passport to get back into the country. The only exceptions are those traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

As early as Jan. 1, 2008, cruise passengers and anyone crossing land borders into the United States also will need a passport.

Why it's important

More than 70 percent of Americans lack passports. Millions more applications than usual may be inundating passport offices close to the deadline.

If you will need a passport next year, get it now.

How to learn more

Other questions, including guidelines for renewing current passports by mail, can be answered at www.travel. state.gov/passport.

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