Well, that is not the case. All Americans are allowed to hold one regular passport and a duplicate. How come I never knew this???
I travel a lot but apparently not enough to need a duplicate.....hopefully one day when I am able to take my family on a traveling sabbatical I can get one :)
At any given time any American can have two separate and valid passports though the second one will only be valid for two years. The benefits of holding a second one help you gain access to countries faster, save you if your original is lost or stolen, and speed the visa processing time up when you have leave a country.
Personally, I want everyone in my family to hold a duplicate when we start our world travel adventure. Here is why...
Arriving in or leaving a political sensitive country.
We all know what it means when someone says politically sensitive, it basically means only go there if you desperately need to. Not only do you have to try and stay safe there but just clearing Customs will be a bear (a scary one). Typically they do not like to see multiple international stamps in your passport and it could subject you to additional questioning to explain your travel patterns. To follow that having certain passport stamps could make it harder for you to visit other countries. Say you wanted to visit Indonesia or United Arab Emirates but you have a stamp from Israel it would make entering those countries extremely difficult if not impossible.
Traveling the globe is a puzzle and just because we Americans does not mean we have access to anywhere and anytime. A simple thing like stamps in our passport could detain you anywhere if you do not do your research. So this is where holding a duplicate would help you travel more easily.
Expedite visa processing
This reason is much, much, much more common among the general public than traveling to political sensitive areas. You will need a visa if you plan on living/working anywhere abroad and for some countries just to travel to. Visa come with stipulations that make you leave the country you are staying in for a specific amount of time after you have already been there a specific number of days. For example, a bear to visit: China. Well before you enter their country you are required to have a visa and travel insurance to submit to their travel consulate. Then if you plan on living somewhere permanently like Ecuador you have to apply for a 12-IX visa which allows you to stay in their country for 180 days the first year and limits you to not being gone longer than 90 days after the second year of residency. So basically when you are applying for a visa you have to send in your primary passport which means you will be grounded between applications. But if you kept a duplicate then you could continue to travel internationally and according to the State Department that is reason enough for you to have one.
Lost or stolen and stranded
The term claustrophobia comes to my mind when I think of being stuck in a country and literally not allowed to leave. Yes applying for an emergency passport replacement is possible when you are abroad but it is seriously difficult and more than unpleasant. The process at home is not fun. Chances are you did not bring all the proper documents with you to apply for it anyway so good luck with a speedy process. With a second passport you could just file a DS-64 that informs the State Department that it has been lost or stolen granite you need to do that anyway but at least you could still come and go. The down side to a lost passport is that if you are in a country that has a visa stamp in it that you need to exit the country you will potentially have to have the visa replaced.
Still do not think you need a second passport?
If you do not travel internationally often enough but still want the extra security of having one try out a passport card or Trusted Traveler card. A passport card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at lands border crossings or sea ports-of-entry but cannot be used for international travel by air. A Trusted Traveler card is provided from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has several Trusted Traveler programs which provide an improved passenger experience all while enhancing security. The programs are customized based on travel needs and many of them have reciprocal benefits. For example: TSA Pre is for primarily domestic travel. Global Entry is for international and domestic travel. Nexus is for travel between the U.S. and Canada. And Sentri is for travel by land between the U.S. and Mexico.
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You can also contact United Military Travel to discuss you current and future travel plans and they can advise you on what they think is the best suit for you.