BAMBERG, Germany -- The idea of passports, or some type of document that identifies you and your nationality, has long been a part of history.

Some of the earliest references to passports can be found in the Bible and date back to about 450 B.C. when a man named Nehemiah was given a letter from the king asking distant officials to allow the man safe travel as he journeyed to Judea, according to the book "The Passport: The History of Man's Most Travelled Document."

In the United States, the individual states began issuing passports in 1775. The document was designed by Benjamin Franklin, then the minister to France, and was based on the look of the French passport. It wasn't until 1856 that Congress granted the Department of State sole authority to issue passports.

While today's passports may look a whole lot different than those original documents, the purpose hasn't changed much over the years.

However, today's passport is a much more complex document than the original. Many people often get confused by the differences in the types of passports and how to use them.

There are several different types of American passports including: tourist (blue cover), official (maroon cover) and diplomatic (black cover). In addition to the regular tourist passport, there is also a no-fee tourist passport, which also has a blue cover. While an official or diplomatic passport is considered a no-fee passport, the blue no-fee tourist passports are typically issued to family members who are traveling on orders for the U.S. government, according to the Department of State website.

Community members are allowed to have both a no-fee and tourist passport at the same time.

But, when is the right time to use the no-fee passport'

According to the Department of State, a no-fee passport should only be used when traveling overseas on official orders. For example, when you are traveling to a new duty station, you would use your no-fee passport. When traveling for leisure or personal reasons, you must use your tourist passport, said Don Johnson, the Bamberg military passport acceptance agent.

In fact, it is against the law to use your no-fee passport when on leisure travel, said Johnson.
"You could get fined," he said.

If you only have a tourist passport, you are technically only allowed to stay within a foreign country for a maximum of 90 days every six months.

So, what happens if you came to Germany with just a tourist passport'

No need to worry, said Johnson. If you just have a tourist passport and do not have a no-fee passport, you can go to the passport office and apply for a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, card that can be inserted into your tourist passport.

One thing Johnson cautioned is to not wait until the last minute to do passport paperwork.

If you are applying for a tourist passport, the process can take up to four weeks, he said. An official passport can take between four and six weeks to get back. Johnson recommends starting the renewal process at least 90 days before the passport expires.

In addition, while the passport office doesn't process Visa applications, they do have information packets to let you know what you need to do to get one. Johnson encourages community members to start thinking well in advance about applying for a Visa if needed.

"Sometimes it can take up to a year to get through the Visa application process," he said.

If community members have a baby overseas, they will also have to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad before applying for a passport. Parents can also apply for a newborn's Social Security card at the passport office as well.

Information about passports and documents can be downloaded from the www.bamberg.army.mil website or by stopping by the passport office. Photos for the passport can be obtained at the Community Activity Center Tuesday through Friday from noon - 5 p.m. Once you have the packet and all the documents, the visit to the passport office only takes about 5-10 minutes, Johnson said.

The Bamberg passport office, located on the first floor of the Service Credit Union building, is open Monday through Friday for from 8 - 11:45 a.m. for walk in appointments dealing with passport or SOFA issues and 1 - 4 p.m. for Consular Reports of Birth and by appointment.

For more information, contact Don Johnson at 0951-300-8928, log on to http://www.bamberg.army.mil/directorates/dhr/passport.asp or find more information at http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16