If you've paid a hefty fee for a passport lately, the mention of a fee-free passport might catch your attention in a hurry. But here's the catch: you have to be in the military to get it. This kind of passport is called a special issuance passport and it is available only to military officers or employees traveling abroad on official business. It's also available for their dependents.

Special Issue Passports

Every American who wishes to travel abroad must have a U.S. passport to show at the border when exiting and returning. This rule includes members of the military and their families, even when they are deploying under orders or on official business. But since they are obliged to travel abroad in order to defend American interests, Congress has determined that military service people and dependents should not have to pay for their passports. A "no fee" passport contains an endorsement identifying the holder of the passport as an agent of the U.S. Government who is traveling abroad on official travel.

Obtaining a Military Passport

The process for obtaining a military passport is not much different from obtaining a tourist passport other than the pesky little fee issue. Military personnel contact their Installation Travel Office to begin the passport process. Their Human Resources Office provides a DD Form 1056, "Authorization to Apply for a "no fee" Passport and/or Request for Visa Preparation." The DD Form 1056 proves that the person and his or her dependents are authorized to apply for a no-fee passport. It provides the authority the State Department requires to issue the no-fee passport.

Military personnel submit their applications for passports (form DS-11 for initial passport, form DS-82 for renewal) to the local military passport and visa section. They need to fill out the same application and provide the same documentation of identity and citizenship as everyone else. They also need a passport photo and the DD Form 1056.

Additional information on "no fee" passports and visa requests can be found at the websites Air Force Passport Matters (HQ USAF/DPLP) and United States Army Service Center for the Armed Forces (USASCAF). These websites can be accessed only from a dot-mil or dot-gov domain.

Limitations on Use

The downside to this type of passport is that you can use it only when traveling on official military business. A military officer or employee who intends to spend leisure time in personal travel must get – and pay for – a regular passport.

What happens if a military service person tries to use a military special issue passport for leisure travel? Sometimes countries don't notice and the person gets away with it. At other times, he can be trapped in a country visited as a tourist and find himself unable to get out.