A passport is a must-have for international travel. However, the process of getting a U.S. passport may seem confusing for first-time applicants. Fortunately, this handy guide outlines each step of the process to give you a simple checklist for getting a U.S. passport. Though the process isn’t too difficult, it’s important to apply well in advance of your trip to ensure that you receive your passport on time. Continue reading for more information regarding required documents, processing times and more.
Step 1: Restrictions & Requirements
The requirements for getting a passport are fairly straightforward: you must be a U.S. citizen. However, there are a few stipulations in addition to this main requirement. All applicants need the required documentation and identification to prove their citizenship (see Step 2). For minors, parental consent must be given in person in order for a passport to be issued.
To get your first passport, you’ll need to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility or a regional passport agency. You can find the nearest location of one of these approved facilities by visiting iafdb.travel.state.gov.
Step 2: Documents
If you already have a U.S. passport and you just need to renew it, there’s good news – as long as your last passport was issued within the last 15 years, you don’t have to renew it in person. Simply mail in your renewal form along with your most recent passport, an updated photo (see Step 3) and the necessary fees. If you’ve changed your name, you’ll need to send in a marriage certificate or court order as well.
For first-time applicants and applicants who are minors, additional documentation is required. First, you’ll need to prove your citizenship using one of the following items:
- Certified birth certificate
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
- Naturalization Certificate
- Certificate of Citizenship
- Previously issued, undamaged U.S. passport
Next, you’ll need one of the following forms of primary identification, along with a photocopy of the front and back of the ID:
- Recently issued Naturalization Certificate
- Valid driver’s license
- Current government ID
- Current military ID
- Current, undamaged U.S. passport
The citizenship evidence that you submit will be returned to you when you receive your passport in the mail. You’ll only have to show your identification, but the photocopy must be submitted.
If you’re a minor, your parents will need to be present to submit evidence of their relationship to you along with their own identification. Their relationship to you can be proved with one of the following:
- Minor’s certified U.S. birth certificate with both parents’ names
- Minor’s Report of Birth Abroad with both parents’ names
- Adoption Decree with adopting parents’ names
- Court Order establishing custody
- Court Order establishing guardianship
Step 3: Passport Photo
You must submit a high-quality, color photograph when applying for a passport. Your photo must meet the following requirements in order to be accepted:
- Taken within the last 6 months
- Printed on photo-quality paper
- 2 x 2 inches in size
- Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
- Plain white or off-white background
- Full-face view directly facing the camera
- Neutral expression
- Both eyes open
- Taken in normal, everyday clothing (no uniforms, hats, headphones, etc., but prescription glasses and hearing aids are permitted)
Though you may take your passport photo yourself, the U.S. Department of State recommends using a professional passport photo service. Many U.S. Post Office locations offer this service. In addition, you can check with nearby locations of the following businesses to find out if they offer a passport photo service:
- Drugstores (Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.)
- Shipping stores (FedEx, UPS, etc.)
- Warehouse stores (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.)
Step 4: Application
All of the application forms for a U.S. passport can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. You can choose to fill out the form online and then print it off or simply print a blank form and fill it out by hand. If you don’t have access to a computer and/or printer, you can get the forms at a local acceptance facility or passport agency.
Each form requires an application fee as well. First-time and minor applicants are also charged an execution fee. The way you pay depends on where you apply:
- Acceptance facility: Pay your application fee by cash, personal check, money order or bank draft. Your execution fee must be paid separately via money order, bank draft, personal check, cash or (at some locations) credit card.
- Passport agency: All fees can be paid by credit card, debit card, check, money order or bank draft.
- Mail: All fees can be paid by check or money order.
Passport fees can change over time, so check the U.S. Department of State website for the latest fee schedule.
Step 5: Processing
Expect to wait four to six weeks from the time of your application to receive your passport. Currently, the U.S. Department of State allows applicants to track their passport status online.
If you need a passport sooner than that, you can apply using an expedited service that delivers passports within two to three weeks. This service comes with an additional fee of $60. If you need your passport within 14 days, contact the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.
Getting your passport is a great way to expand your travel opportunities. Even if you don’t have plans to travel out of the country, it’s a good idea to get your passport now so that you can travel internationally whenever the mood strikes.