In her more than 30 years as Jefferson City's "Passport Lady," April Burger has seen a lot of changes.
And one of the biggest, the postal clerk said last week, was the creation of the "Passport Card."
"The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI, started in 2007," she explained, when the government "decided that everybody needs a passport to go outside the United States and to get back in. And with that initiative came the 'Passport Card.'"
In 2009, Burger told the News Tribune, her records show the Jefferson City Post Office issued 49 Passport Cards in the entire year, and 600 of the traditional passports now called "Passport Books."
So far this year, she said, "We have issued 661 Passport Cards (and) way over 5,000 Passport Books."
Before the WHTI, Americans traveling into Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands generally needed only a copy of a birth certificate and/or a driver's license to cross those borders — although a full passport was required for other international travel.
The cards were developed as a cheaper alternative to the books, for sea and land travel in the Western Hemisphere, while a Passport Book still was required for air travel anywhere outside the U.S. borders.
Both the Passport Cards and Books became more important for travelers because they complied with requirements of the 2005 federal "Real ID" law, which Congress passed as one response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Among its provisions were setting a national standard for driver's licenses and requiring states to link their record-keeping systems to national databases.
Documents — including driver's licenses — that comply with the 2005 law are needed to get on commercial airline flights within the United States, to visit military bases like Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base, and to enter federal buildings like Jefferson City's U.S. Courthouse, 80 Lafayette St.
Missouri's current driver's licenses don't comply. Although the Legislature this year passed a law allowing the state Revenue Department to issue a license meeting the federal requirements, those won't be available until early 2019, at the earliest.
The federal Homeland Security Department's waiver for Missourians to use their current licenses ends on Jan. 22, 2018, although state officials have asked for another waiver.
But, Burger noted, having a Passport Book or Card would let a traveler avoid any hassles if the federal government doesn't extend the waiver.
"You've got 10 years of saying, 'I'm OK. I don't have to worry about what they're doing with the 'Real ID' Act," she said.
Passports are issued through the U.S. State Department, but the U.S. Postal Service's Main Post Office, 133 W. High St., is an authorized agent.
When applying through the Post Office, all applicants must pay a $25 processing fee to the Postal Service — and a $15 fee for the Post Office to take a photograph that complies with the State Department standards, which include being in color, showing a full front view of the face and being 2 inches by 2 inches.
Applicants can provide a photograph taken somewhere else, Burger said, but they must make sure those pictures won't be rejected.
The State Department charges $110 for a new Passport Book for those 16 and older. The document is valid for 10 years. The Passport Cards, also valid for 10 years, are $30.
A person can get both at the same time, using the same photograph, for $140.
"A good 85 percent of the people — maybe more — are getting a book and a card at the same time," Burger said. "They're getting the book to travel outside the United States — and the card to travel inside the United States."
Passports also are issued for people under 16, but they're valid only for five years. Those cost $80 for a Passport Book, $15 for Passport Cards or $95 for both.
Since the license-sized cards fit in a wallet, she said, people are less likely to forget them in the last-minute rush to get to the airport.
One reason for talking about this now, Burger said, is the State Department's four-to-six week processing time — which means a passport ordered this week likely wouldn't be received until early January.
"With the holidays coming up, it will get very busy," Burger said.
Application forms are available at the Post Office, or can be downloaded from the federal website, travel.state.gov.
Applications for adults also can be submitted online, but parents must appear in person when applying for children's passports.
Details of the needed, required documents are listed on the application form and on the federal website.