If your travel plans include any overseas travel, you will need a passport. A US passport identifies you as a citizen of the United States, and most countries require one for you to enter. In addition, you will need a passport to return to the US after your trip. Getting a passport is not difficult, but if you don’t know what to expect out of the process, or if you find yourself up against a time crunch, you could be in for a surprise. Here is a closer look at the process for obtaining a US passport.
Gather Your Documents
First, you will need the right documents to apply for your passport. Gather the following:
- A completed passport application form
- Proof of US citizenship
- Proof of hour identity
- Two current photos
- Payment for the passport application
The government has specific regulations about each of these, so here is a closer look at them.
The Passport Application
The passport application is an official document that you can either download online or get in person at your local post office. For most applicants, this is form DS-11. If you choose to print the form at home, print on white paper that is standard printer size. The paper cannot have any perforations and needs to be matte, not glossy or shiny. Choose a paper that is at least medium weight. Do not use any specialized papers, including thermal or dye-sublimation papers. Fill out the form in its entirety, following the instructions which are on the first and second pages.
US Citizenship Proof
In order to apply, you must prove that you are an American citizen. The passport office accepts the following as proof of citizenship:
- Certified US birth certificate. This cannot be a copy but needs to be an official state, city, or county-issued document.
- For those born abroad, records of the birth are required
- Naturalization certificate is required for naturalized citizens.
- Certificate of citizenship is needed for those who do not have the other options.
You also need to verify your identity, and this requires additional documentation, which should include a photograph. For this, you can use:
- Undamaged previous US passport, which can be expired
- Naturalization or citizenship certificate
- Current, valid driver’s license from the state you live in
- Current, valid government or military ID
- Green card or Mexican Consular ID
- Trusted Traveler ID
If you do not have access to these, you can use two secondary identification forms of identification, which include:
- Out-of-state driver’s license or non-driver photographic ID
- Learner’s permit or temporary driver’s license
- Social Security card
- Voter registration card
- An employee or student ID
- Yearbook with your photograph
- Selective Service card
- State health card
- REAL ID
- Expired driver’s license
These items must be the original item when you come to the passport office for your application appointment. However, you should also bring a photocopy, because you will not be able to leave your original with your application.
Passport photos have specific requirements to be accepted, and you don’t want your application rejected or delayed because you submitted photos that do not conform to the rules. Start by wearing your normal clothing, not a work uniform. You should not have anything on your head for the photo, but you should wear glasses if you normally wear them. Take the photo against a white wall, looking straight ahead with your mouth closed. This rule means you will not smile for your photo. You will need two copies of the photo that measure two-inches by two-inches. Make sure that your head and shoulders show in the photo, and that the proportions meet the regulations.
One of the easiest ways to ensure your passport photo is accepted is to have it taken by a company that does this regularly. Many drug stores offer this service and have specialized cameras that properly position your face in the frame. A CVS photo is a good option. Always check the photos to ensure they look right before heading for your passport appointment.
Application And Execution Fees
In order to apply for a passport, you must pay some fees. In 2019 the fee for an adult passport book was $110 made payable to the “US Department of State.” This must be paid with a money order or check, not cash, credit card, or debit card. If you need to get your passport quickly, you will need to pay an additional $60 to the US Department of State.
You also have to pay a $35 execution fee, which is payable to the acceptance facility. Many acceptance facilities require money orders, but some will take personal checks and cash payments with exact change. Some will take credit cards.
Apply For Your Passport
Once you have everything in hand, head to your local acceptance facility to apply. Most post offices have an acceptance facility on site. There may be other acceptance facilities near you. Call ahead, if possible, to see if the facility requires an appointment.
How Long Does It Take?
One of the challenges of applying for a passport is the length of time that it takes to get the document. After you have turned in your completed forms, photos, and money, it can take two weeks to two months for you to receive your passport. If the forms have any errors or the photos are rejected, this could be even longer. For that reason, you need to apply as soon as you are thinking about traveling overseas with your luggage, or you need to spend $60 for expedited service. You can also speed up the process by paying overnight delivery fees to have the paperwork rushed to the agency and rushed back to you.
Special Considerations For Children
Children have similar requirements for their passport application as adults, but they do not pay as much. Passports for children under the age of 16 are valid for less time than those for adults, so they are only charged $80 for their passports.
Checking Your Application
You are allowed to check your passport application status online while you are waiting for it to arrive. It takes about a week for your application to show up in the online database through the Department of State. To check, visit the Department of State website and enter your last name, date of birth, and the last four digits of your Social Security Number. This can give you peace of mind that your application is underway and will be back with you soon.
Getting a passport is not difficult, but it does take time. Plan ahead, and soon you will be ready for your trip, passport in hand (or in your passport holder!) and ready to enjoy a new international adventure.