Your passport is the gateway to the world. Here’s how to keep it safe.

To paraphrase the Neil Diamond song , everyone is coming to the USA. And they’re entering with their passport and visas.

Passports are precious documents that allow us to move freely and legally around the world (visa rules aside). Your passport should be the first thing you put aside when you  start packing to come to the USA, but when you actually leave for the airport make sure it’s easily accessible in your backpack, purse, or other carry-on luggage, and stays that way for your entire flight.

But you can’t just land at an airport and hope for the best: In most cases, the U.S. government requires that your passport be valid for at least six months after the day you enter the country. This applies to everyone, regardless of age, so if your visa allows you to  bring your children to the USA, their passports must also be valid for that six-month-minimum. However, there are several countries that have an agreement with the USA to  allow entry until the actual expiration passport date.

Generally, even after you’ve settled in to student life, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of your passport, both in paper and electronic form (e.g. scan it and email it to yourself). That way, if problems arise, you have proof of your legal status in the USA. If your passport is lost or stolen, notify your consulate or embassy and the police immediately.

If you need to renew your passport, you can often do so at your home country’s local consulate or embassy. But once you receive your new passport, keep your old one with you, since you can still use a valid visa if it’s attached to an expired passport. And definitely check how long the renewal process takes before planning any trips, as you won’t even be able to board an international flight without a valid passport, and it would be pretty depressing to miss out on your spring break trip.