Getting a passport

The passport office in Washington, DC

How to apply for a passport for a trip to Italy

When it comes down to it, you really only need three things to go to Italy: (1) a plane ticket, (2) clothing, and (3) a passport.

A valid passport is the only legal form of identification recognized around the world. Your driver's license ain't gonna cut it out there— abroad, it only proves that some U.S. state lets you drive (though you will need one to rent a car).

You cannot cross an international border without a passport. Well, OK, since 1997 you can criss-cross most of Western Europe without flashing it, but you still need it to get in, plus to go to Great Britain and Ireland (it's an insular thing), Switzerland (it's a neutrality thing), and most of Eastern Europe (it's a holdover-from-the-Iron-Curtain-days thing).

Getting a passport is easy, but it takes some time to complete the process. Make sure you start the paperwork at least six weeks in advance of your departure. It'll probably only take 3-4 weeks (and there are ways to expedite it—for a fee), but don't tempt fate.

This process involves showing up in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility (which includes many major post offices, some libraries, courthouses, and other government buildings; the list is at You cannot simply apply for a passport by mail.

Since all the current details on how to apply for a passport are so readily available on-line, there's little reason for me to rehash it all here—just go to the excellent State Department site ( and it'll walk you through the process. But here are a few useful pointers:

  • U.S. consulates in Italy
    Whenever you get in serious trouble abroad—like losing a passport—you head for the nearest U.S. Consulatenot the embassy. Embassies are for governmental negotiations; consulates are for helping citizens.

    (Note: leave large bags and any electronic devices—cellphone, iPod, cameras, etc.—at your hotel, as they are not allowed inside embassy and consular building.)

    Via Vittorio Veneto 121, 00187 Roma
    tel. +39-06-46741
    Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–12:30pm

    Lungarno Vespucci 38, 50123 Firenze
    tel. +39-055-266-951
    Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–12:30pm

    Via Principe Amadeo 2/10, 20121 Milano
    tel. +39-02-290-351
    Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8:30am–noon

    Piazza della Repubblica , 80122 Napoli
    tel. +39-081-583-8111
    Walk-in hours: Mon–Fri 8am–noon

    Venice (Consular agency)
    Venice Marco Polo Airport
    General Aviation Terminal
    Viale Galileo Galilei 30, 30030 Tesserra (VE)
    tel. +39-041-541-5944
    Open: by appointment only

    Palermo (Consular agency)
    Via Vaccarini 1, 90143 Palermo
    tel. +39-091-305-857
    Open: by appointment only Mon–Fri 9am–12:30pm

    Genoa (Consular agency)
    Via Dante 2, 16121 Genova
    tel. +39-010-584-492
    Open: Mon–Thurs 11am–3pm

    For more info:
    You'll need two identical passport-size photos (2" X 2"), which you can have taken at any photo shop or most major chain drug stores. You cannot use the strip of pictures from one of those photo vending machines. Go ahead six to eight total made up. You'll need extras to apply for an International Driving Permit and student or teacher identification cards. Take the rest of the photos with you. You'll occasionally need one for random reasons (such as London's Travelcard) on the road and—heaven forbid—if you ever lose your passport, you can use one as a replacement photo.
  • You'll need to bring proof of U.S. Citizenship. This usually means a previous passport or a certified birth certificate with both parent's full names (not a photocopy, but a certified copy and a registrar's seal—usually raised or embossed—and signature; you can order one from the state in which you were born). If you are a citizen but were not born in the U.S., you can bring a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Certification of Birth, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Certificate of Citizenship. Note you must also bring a photo ID, so if you don't have an old passport, you must bring a driver's license or equivalent (military ID or other government-issued photo ID)
  • When you go to apply for your passport, bring two checks. For reasons known only to the federal bureaucracy, you have to fill out two separate checks (one is an Application Fee, the other an Execution Fee). Silly? Of course. Still, its impossible to argue with the federal government: just bring two checks.
  • You'll be given a choice of a Passport Book, and Passport Card, or both. What you want is the "Passport Book." This is the traditional, old school passport. The "Passport Card" was essentially designed as a low-cost alternative ($55 versus $135) for truckers and others whose business constantly takes them back and forth across the border with Mexico or Canada (though it is also valid for Bermuda and most Caribbean countries, so it is used by some cruisers and snowbirds who don't bother traveling anywhere else). You cannot use a Passport Card to go to Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, or anywhere else besides the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is, therefore, pretty pointless.
  • What if I need a passport in a hurry?
    You can get an expedited passport in as little as 24 hours—if you're willing to pay for it. Services like our partner ( can get you a new passport, or renew an old one, quickly for an expedite fee, which goes up depending on how soon you need it:

    • 8–12 business days - $99
    • 5–7 business days - $149
    • 3–4 business days - $199
    • 2 business days - $249
    • 1 business day - $299

    Note that those prices are just for the fast service; you still have to pay the government fees for the passport itself.
    It can take up to 10 weeks to get your passport. That's all the government will promise (actually, they don't even promise that; they simply state it as a ballpark). In practice, it usually only takes about 4–6 weeks (I once got a renewal passport just two weeks after dropping off the forms), but don't count on it arriving sooner than 10 weeks. There are three ways to get it faster:

    • You can pay the government a $60 expedite fee and they'll try to get the passport to you in 2–3 weeks.
    • You can pay for an expedite service like (see to the box on the right), where fees start at $99 to get a passport in 8–12 business days (up to $299 for 24-hour service).
    • If if is a life-or-death emergency, the government can get you a passport in 24–48 hours, but you have to apply in person at a Passport Agency (there are only 25 of those in the country) and bring poof of the emergency.
  • Make three photocopies of your passport (the open page with all the personal data, not the cover). This is the main item on your backup info sheet (along with other IDs, the numbers to call if you lose your credit cards, etc.). Keep one copy with you at all times—separate from the original—another copy hidden in your bag somewhere, and leave the third copy at home with a trusted friend or neighbor who can fax it to you in case of emergency. » more
  • Keep your passport with you at all times securely in your money belt. The only times to give it up are at the bank for the tellers to photocopy when they change your traveler's checks, at borders for the guards to peruse (this includes giving it to the conductor on overnight train rides), when any police or military personnel ask for it, and briefly to the concierge when you're checking into your hotel (see next).
  • Hotel front desks will often want to keep your passport overnight. They have to register you with the police, and they like to pile all the passports in a drawer until the evening so they can do all the guests' slips at once. Smile and ask politely whether they can do their paperwork on the spot or at least let you come by in 15 minutes or so, after you check into your room, freshen up, and are on your way out to hit the town. I always tell them I need it to go exchange money at the bank, whether that's actually my plan or not.
  • If you lose your passport on the road, go directly to the nearest U.S. consulate (do not pass go, do not collect $200). Bring all forms of identification you have, and they'll get started on generating you a new passport. Needless to say, this is a hassle that should be avoided at all costs. I've listed Italy's consulates and consular agencies to the right; get updated information on them at

Visa—More than Just a Credit Card

A visa is an official stamp or piece of paper granting a foreign national the right to enter a country. (It comes from the French, visée, because back in the day it meant that an official had "looked" over your travel and identification documents—precursors to passports).

A valid passport is the only documentation an American needs to visit Italy (or any other Western European country for that matter). Your passport will be stamped wherever you enter Europe with a temporary tourist visa that's good for 90 days of travel within the E.U.

If you plan to stay in Italy longer that 90 days, contact that country's consulate in the United States before you leave to get a specific visa, or any U.S. consulate once you are abroad. In practice, they usually don’t care if tourists spend five, six, seven months here.

I've routinely gone over for more than 90 days (on one memorable occasion, for about 18 months) and no one ever questioned me about it. Yes, technically that means I've been an illegal immigrant in Europe many times over, but, well, there you go.

How to find consulates and embassies in Italy

US State Department ( - This Web site is the best thing the government has ever done for travelers. You can download passport applications, research potential visa requirements, read consular fact sheets and travel warnings on the countries you wish to visit, and find out all about the services available to US citizens abroad. Great set of links to other governmental and non-governmental travel sites, too.

Embassy World ( - A nifty little Web site that links you to every embassy and consulate Web site out there, so an Aussie can find not only the Australian consulate in Rome, Italy, but also Italy's consulate in Canberra so he can ring up about visa requirements.

U.S. Embassies ( Direct links to individual US Embassy Web sites around the globe.

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