Your passport is the most important document you will have while traveling abroad. Any person who travels outside of his/her native country needs a passport; it serves as proof of citizenship, and is necessary to enter and return from almost every country in the world.
If you have a current passport, make sure it will not expire while you are away on your program; your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S. Also, in case of an emergency situation, at least one other member of your family should have a valid passport as well.
Apply for a Passport
With new requirements implemented by the federal government, passport agencies are experiencing tremendous backlogs and long delays in processing passport requests (especially during the summer). You should therefore apply for your passport at least four months before your scheduled departure. You can apply through a Passport Agency (in all major cities), a local issuing office, a Federal or State Court House, or a Class 1 Post Office. (Note: if you also need a visa, you should apply for your passport and your visa at least six months before your departure.) Passport applications and instructions can be found on the Department of State website or the U.S. Postal Service website.
If you have never had a passport, you will need to complete an application and submit it in person or by registered mail along with a certified copy of your birth certificate, two checks (one for the application fee and one for the clerk's fee), and two 2" x 2" photographs. Passport photos are available at almost any camera shop, but you can also obtain them at CVS drugstores or in the W&M ID office. If you plan to travel extensively, request a 48 page passport so that you will not have to pay to have pages added at a later date.
You can check the status of your passport application on the Department of State website.
Once you receive your passport, please be sure to sign it and fill in the emergency information.
Renew your Passport
If you have a current or expired passport, you may be able to renew by mail, provided your most recent passport meets certain conditions; if it does not, you will have to apply in person. Passport renewal applications and guidelines can be obtained from Department of State website or Post Office. Start the renewal process early, especially if you will also need a visa, so as to allow enough time to resolve any problems that may arise.
Before leaving home, scan and save a copy of your passport to your laptop, so that you can access it at any time. Be sure that your laptop is password protected. You should leave a copy of your passport with your parents, and provide a copy to the director of your program. These precautions will help in the event that your passport is lost or stolen. (Should that happen, either domestically or abroad, report your lost or stolen passport immediately.)
Keep your passport with you at all times while traveling, secured in a pouch around your neck or in a money belt around your waist. Once settled in your host country, you can leave your passport in a secure place, and simply carry a copy with you. (Note: some countries require you to carry your passport with you at all times-research the policies of your host country before leaving home.)
Note: The information regarding passports above is specific to U.S. citizens. Students who are not U.S. citizens and wish to travel abroad should check with their embassies, and with the [[sjsech, Director for International Students, Scholars, and Programs]], to make sure their current visa allows them to leave and return to the U.S.