Exploring new sites in Arkansas or abroad is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about the world. I believe that you change the world through personal relationships and traveling is an important component.
I know that many Arkansans share my interest in traveling because my office sees an increase in requests for help with passports during this time of year. The closer we get to spring break, the more urgent they become. However, there are a number of ways to minimize the chances for a passport disaster. First, apply as early as possible. Passports normally take four to six weeks to receive. Expensive expedite fees and mailing costs can be avoided by planning ahead. Please call my office so I can help track down passports that have not been received after six weeks. You can find the forms and all of the information you need to apply at: travel.state.gov/passports.
For emergencies, we are fortunate to have a U.S. Passport Center located in Hot Springs. This facility can help process a passport request quickly. For Arkansans traveling within the next two weeks or in need of a foreign visa within the next four weeks, call the office for an appointment at: 1-877-487-2778.
It is also interesting to note that a large number of passports will be expiring this year. Ten years ago a change in federal law led to a rush of passport applications. Those 2006 passports will expire in 2016, so plan to apply early and don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you have any questions or concerns with this process. The U.S. Passport Agency expects to issue more than 17 million passports in 2016, which is about 1.5 million more than last year.
Arkansans traveling abroad, should visit the State Department’s website at travel.state.gov, to get the latest travel warnings and useful information for a specific destination. The updates are helpful to learn of any political unrest, health concerns or other issues before traveling. It recently updated its advisories to include information on the Zika virus for travelers. The fact sheets include information on legal issues, traffic, healthcare and contact for the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is another important resource that provides information from the U.S. Embassy about safety conditions and helps officials contact travelers during an emergency. I have heard from many Arkansans who appreciated getting updates during overseas travel regarding everything from violent demonstrations to weather emergencies that impacted their trip. To register for this program go to step.state.gov.
Although there is a lot of planning involved, I believe it is well worth the effort to get out and see our state, our country and our world. As always, if you have any problems working with a federal agency, feel free to contact my office. I hope that your travels are safe and enjoyable this year.