With a trip back to the US planned this summer, we have been busy getting travel documents together. It's no small task. In our family of five (with three dual citizens), we have six five-year passports, two ten-year passports, a five-year alien registration card, and a three-year re-entry permit to deal with. Over the years we have come up with some good practices for making sure we keep these documents up to date and spend as little time and money on them as possible. Here's how we do it.
1. Set reminders.
Enter expiration dates into an online calendar or reminder application. (I use google calendar.) Then have reminders sent to you two months, one month, and two weeks before the documents expire. You can do this for other things too like drivers' licenses, prescriptions, insurance policies, and big bills that you want a heads-up on. For those who organize with pen and paper, put these important dates on the last page of your calendar, even if they are years away, then transfer them whenever you get a new calendar.
2. Consolidate into fewer trips.
We let T's American passport expire and didn't get him a new one until R and D also needed them (He had a Japanese passport so traveling wasn't a problem). Now all three children's passports expire at the same time so it's just one trip to the embassy every five years for the kids. Getting their cycles in sync saves days off from work as well as time and money on the train. Plus, once I'm in the groove, it's easy to do the necessary paperwork and get photos together for all three kids at once.
3. Take your own passport photos.
With digital cameras, high quality home printers, and free sites like epassportphoto.com, there's no reason to waste money at a studio. Just snap several shots of your subject in front of a white wall (or if it's a small child lay him on a white sheet and shoot from above), choose the best one (keeping in mind that there shouldn't be shadows, that the eyes should be open and facing the camera, and that the mouth should be closed), and upload your photo to the site linked to above. Choose which country's passport you are applying for and the site will walk you through the cropping process. Print out the photos and you are good to go. Be sure to print the photos at actual size; don't let your printer software shrink or expand the photos to fit the page. We've had no problems applying for American or Japanese passports with DIY passport photos.
Traveling with children comes with hassles and expenses, but with good planning and initiative, having the proper documents doesn't have to be so bad.