Travel can be a wonderful thing. But what do you do when you've exhausted all the cool places to see and things to do in the United States? You follow your wanderlust abroad.
To do that, you need a U.S. Passport. If you're going through the crucible of getting a passport and need some help figuring out what to do, we've got all the answers you need right here! Everything from when and where to apply, to how much you'll need to pay for your passport and how long it'll take for you to receive it.
When To Apply
There are a lot of things to consider when you're planning any trip, and even more so when you're preparing to take a trip outside of the country. One of the things that cannot be overlooked early in the process is submitting your passport application. Without paying extra to have your application expedited, routine processing time is four to six weeks. If you do fork over the extra cash to speed the process up, expect to have your passport in your hot, travel-ready hands within two to three weeks.
How To Get A Passport
If you are applying for a U.S. passport for the first time, there is currently no option for you to apply online or by mail. You'll have to apply in person at the nearest Passport Acceptance Facility, which you can find by searching right here. If you have an urgent travel need, you can apply in person at a Passport Agency, which you can find here.
What You Need To Apply For A Passport
First time U.S. passport applicants will, as you can likely imagine, need to bring a few items with them when they apply.
1) Completed form DS-11
This form is for anyone applying for their first U.S. passport as well as:
- anyone under the age of 16
- anyone whose previous U.S. passport was issued when they were under age 16
- those whose previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
- anyone whose previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago
2) Evidence of your U.S. citizenship
This evidence must be original or a certified copy. Photocopies and notarized copies will not be accepted as evidence of citizenship. Bring one of the following:
- fully-valid, undamaged U.S. passport (can be expired)
- U.S. birth certificate which was issued by the city, county, or state of birth, lists your full name, date of birth, place of birth and parents' full names, has the date filed with registrar's office (must be within one year of birth), and has the registrar's signature and has the seal of the issuing authority
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship
3) Photocopy of your U.S. citizenship evidence
Here's where a regular photocopy is fine. Be sure to copy the front and back of your evidence if there's anything printed on the back of your document. The copy must be legible, on standard white 8.5"x11" paper, black and white and single-sided. If you don't want to submit a photocopy, then you'll need to submit a second certified copy for the office to keep.
4) Valid Identification
Present one of the following:
- fully-valid, undamaged U.S. passport (expired is fine)
- fully-valid U.S. driver's license
- Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
- government employee ID (city, county, state or federal)
- U.S. military ID or military dependent ID
- valid foreign passport
- Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular Identification, commonly used by the parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant)
If you present out-of-state ID, you'll need to show an additional form of ID.
5) Photocopy of ID
Your copy should match the above requirements for the copy of citizenship evidence. You can enlarge the image but cannot decrease the image size.
6) Special circumstances
If you meet any of these circumstances, you may have additional requirements for your passport application:
- under 16-years-old
- between 16 and 17-years-old
- previous passport lost or stolen
- owing over $2,500 in child support
- requesting a gender designation change
- looking for official, diplomatic, or other special issuance passport (only accessible from a U.S. government device).
Bring one photo that meets all of the requirements.
There are application and execution fees for each type of passport that need to be paid separately, and we'll go into those below.
What Does It Cost To Get A Passport?
As with most things in life (and, certainly, most things that relate to travel) you'll need to pay some cold, hard cash to get your hands on a U.S. passport. As mentioned above, there are application fees and execution fees for each passport type. These fees apply to first time applicants, age 16 and older.
- Passport Book. Application Fee: $110. Execution Fee: $25
- Passport Card. Application Fee: $30. Execution Fee: $25
- Passport Book & Card. Application Fee: $140. Execution Fee: $25
There are also fees for additional services. Such as...
- Expedited Service: $60 (only available to applicants in the United States)
- Overnight Delivery: $15.45 (only for Passport Book applicants in the U.S.)
How To Pay
Application and Additional Service Fees need to be paid separately from Execution Fees, and they also have different acceptable means of payment.
Passport Application and Additional Service Fees
Pay by personal, certified, cashier's or traveler's checks or money orders, all payable to "U.S. Department of State." Credit and debit cards WILL NOT be accepted for these fees.
Pay by money order at all locations, payable as instructed by the facility; pay by personal checks and cash (exact change only) at some locations; pay by credit cards at U.S. postal facilities and some other locations.
Since you have more leeway with how to pay Execution Fees, be sure to check with the Passport Acceptance Facility you plan to use so you know what type of payment they'll accept ahead of time.
How Long Is My Passport Good For?
Already have a passport? Great! But if your passport has expired or is nearing its expiration date, it’s time for you to renew.
Note that if a passport was issued when a person was 16 or older, it is valid for 10 years after its issue date. If a passport was issued when a person was under 16, it is valid for only 5 years after its issue date.
According to the Bureau of Consular services, a passport’s issue date can be found on its data page. If you have a passport card (more on that below!), you’ll find the issue date on the front side.
Take note of this date as you plan your travels and renew your passport promptly if its expiration could adversely affect your upcoming trip!
How To Renew A Passport
Passport renewal can be almost as tedious as applying for a brand new passport, but the good news is that you may be able to renew by mail. If you meet the following qualifications, you’re in luck. If not, you’ll have to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility.
Per travel.state.gov, to renew by mail, you must have and be able to submit a passport that:
- is submitted with your application
- is undamaged (other than normal "wear and tear")
- was issued when you were age 16 or older
- was issued within the last 15 years
- was issued in your current name
If you’ve had a name change and can document it with an original or certified marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order, you’re in luck: You can still submit by mail following the instructions outlined here.
Note that children under 16 must renew in person.
Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute To Renew Your Passport
Having a passport is essential for international travel, and most people know that a current and valid passport is required to enter foreign countries and return to the United States. What some prospective travelers don’t know is that different countries have different requirements when it comes to their passport’s expiration date. According to Fastport Passport, a passport and visa expediting company, most European countries, for example, require a passport that’s valid for three months, regardless of how long you plan to visit.
Even more stringent, China, Indonesia, and many other Asian nations require six months of passport validity for entry. India’s passport rules are tied to travel visa dates and require at least six months of validity. Multiple Central and South American countries require six months of passport validity for entry, too.
To verify requirements specific to the countries you plan to visit or travel through, use the search box on the Department of State’s “Country Information” page.
How Long Will It Take To Renew My Passport (Or Get A New One)?
Processing times for all passport services, including passport renewal, are the same. Routine processing takes six to eight weeks, expedited service takes two to three weeks, and expedited processing in person at a passport agency or center takes eight business days.
Checking Your Status
If you’ve applied for a new passport or sent your paperwork in to renew the one you already have, odds are you’re eager to know where your application stands.
You can check your passport application status online via the Online Passport Status System or by phone (1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 for TTD/TTY).
Note that according to travel.state.gov, applications are trackable after seven to 10 business days.
Opting For A Passport Card
A U.S. passport card is a more affordable option that might be the right fit for you depending on your travel plans. Citizens with a valid passport card can enter the U.S. at border crossings and sea ports coming from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
According to the Department of State, “the passport card was designed for the specific needs of northern and southern U.S. border communities with residents that cross the border frequently by land.”
A passport card is not valid for international air travel, so if you plan to fly abroad, a passport (or, more technically, a passport book) is the right choice for you.
For travelers over 16 years old, a passport card application runs $65 as opposed to $145 for a passport book, and renewals by mail are just $30 for a passport card as opposed to $110 for a passport book.
Like a driver’s license or state-issued ID, a passport card will fit conveniently in your wallet, unlike a passport book.
A Passport Essential: How To Get A Passport Photo
Passport photos--whether you’re submitting one for a new passport, a passport card, or a renewal--have to adhere to strict guidelines.
This is probably why most travelers opt to use a photo taken at a post office or drug store that has the equipment to get it right. While you don’t have to pay to have your passport photo taken, be aware that per the Department of State’s website, passport photos must:
- have dimensions that are 2 inches by 2 inches (while it can be matte or glossy, it must be printed on photo-quality paper)
- be taken against a solid white or off-white background
- be taken with eyewear off, even if you typically wear glasses
- be taken by someone else (”no selfies”)
- feature a clear image of your face and no use of filters
- have been taken in the last six months
- be in color
There you have it! All you need to do is sit back, relax and... wait, what am I saying? Now, you need to plan a fun international trip, so what are you waiting for? Get to it!
If you have more questions about applying for a U.S. passport, visit the State Department's passport wizard for additional information.