Advertiser Disclosure: Travel Freedom has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Freedom and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Travel Freedom may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.
If you’re planning on traveling outside of the United States any time soon, then you should really look into getting your US passport. A passport is necessary for US citizens who wish to travel abroad. If you don’t have your passport, then you’ll likely be denied entry into whatever country you’re trying to travel to. There are some exceptions to this rule, but you’re going to need to get your passport if you want to travel to most countries.
Those who have never applied for a passport before might not even know how to get started. This isn’t something that everyone does, as many people never bother to try to leave the country. If no one in your family has ever applied for a passport before, then it’s perfectly understandable to not know what you need to do. Thankfully, the process isn’t all that difficult once you know how to get started.
Today we’re going to talk about the US passport application process. You will be able to learn how to apply for a US passport and we’ll also speak about some other pertinent information. This is going to give you the necessary knowledge to get your passport situation handled properly. You should be able to get your passport and you’ll be ready for your upcoming trip in no time.
Applying for a New Passport in Person
If you have never had a passport before, then you’re going to need to apply for a passport in person. This shouldn’t be difficult to do, but you’ll need to know where you’re supposed to go. Depending on where you live, the location for getting a passport is going to differ. Some people might need to go to the local courthouse while others may need to go to a government building known as the Secretary of State.
You should do some research online to determine where your local passport acceptance facility is ahead of time. This will allow you to figure out where to go and you’ll be able to do everything that you need to do from there. This information should be readily available on your local government websites. Going to the state government website should provide you with the right answers.
Once you’ve figured out where you need to go, you’ll need to make sure that you’re bringing the right stuff to the passport acceptance facility. You’re going to need to have several different items to get your passport. Take a look at the items below so that you can gather everything that is necessary. You’ll have a far easier time if you bring these items to the passport acceptance facility.
- DS-11 Form
- Proof of US citizenship
- Government-issued photo ID
- Color passport photograph
- Fee payment in the form of a check or money order
Additional Requirements for Children
- Proof of relationship to the child
- Both parents must be present
- If both parents cannot be present, the absent parent needs to sign a consent form
What to Know Once You Get to the Office
Now that you’ve gathered all of the necessary items and documents, it’ll be time to pay a visit to the passport acceptance facility. Go and speak to the appropriate workers at the right government building to get things started. They will be able to guide you through the process. This is actually going to be fairly straightforward once you get things going.
It should be noted that you can print the DS-11 form online and fill it out ahead of time. If you can’t do this for one reason or another, the office should have a DS-11 form that they can give you. Depending on how busy the building is, it might be practical enough to sit there and fill out the form. The form isn’t overly long or complicated, so it shouldn’t take too long to get things sorted out.
All of the other items really need to be gathered ahead of time. If you’re missing even one piece of the required items listed above, then you won’t be able to go through with your passport application. Note that proof of US citizenship is going to include items such as your birth certificate or naturalization certificate. You should also know that a military ID will work as a substitute for a driver’s license.
You also need to keep in mind that you can’t pay for the passport fees with cash or your debit card. Many people don’t use checks any longer, but this is still one of only two accepted payment methods. This may change at some point in the future, but you’re going to need a check or a money order to pay for your passport. Both checks and money orders should be payable to the U.S. Department of State.
Applying for a Passport Outside of the US
Applying for a US passport from outside of the US is going to play out a little bit differently. Instead of going to a local government office, you’re going to need to travel to a US embassy or consulate. You’ll be able to request the proper forms to apply for your US passport while there. The process is going to be similar to obtaining your passport while inside of the country, but you’ll be dealing with the embassy or consulate the entire time.
There are some differences when you’re applying for a US passport from Canada. Canada has a different relationship with the US and there are going to be situations where some Americans who are living in Canada will be able to do things by mail. This is mostly going to apply to renewing a passport, rather than applying for a new one. Just be sure to contact the US embassy to get more details on what needs to be done if you’re at all confused.
Passport photos need to be considered ahead of applying, too. We mentioned that you’re going to need a passport photo above, but we’d like to go over this in more detail. If you’re new to applying for passports, then you might not be aware of all of the requirements. These photos won’t be difficult to obtain, but you do want to make sure that you’re doing things right.
All passport photographs need to be in color. The photo should be a clear picture of your face and it needs to have been taken in the last six months. No filters or other alterations of the image are allowed. Someone else needs to take your photograph too, meaning that selfies are strictly prohibited.
If you wear eyeglasses, then you’ll need to go ahead and remove them for the photo. The photo should also be taken against a plain white background. The background can also be off white if necessary. As long as you can meet these requirements, you’ll be able to take the photos at home while being sure to follow the proper rules.
Most people choose to have their passport photos taken at a place of business, though. Many drug stores have passport photo areas where you can easily get your passport photos taken. They’ll even print the photos off for you in the right sizes. Passport photos need to be 2 x 2 inches, so it’s likely going to be more convenient to have the photo taken at a drugstore or other professional facility such as this.
The photo needs to be printed out on glossy paper, too. Typical printer paper is not going to cut it for a passport photo. You’re supposed to have a neutral expression on your face during the photo as well. Be sure that you have your eyes open, too, to avoid any potential problems.
How Long Does it Take to Get Your Passport?
The length of time that it takes to get your passport will differ depending on the season and other factors. If you want an up to date estimate, then it’s going to be best to check your local state government website for more information. There are some general guidelines that you can follow to give yourself a good idea of how long it will take on average. This information should be accurate, but it could change slightly based on certain factors.
Routine service is usually going to take somewhere between four and six weeks. You’ll receive your passport in the mail sometime after one month has passed. This is the most common situation that people deal with when applying for their passport. That is why it’s best to apply for a passport months in advance to give yourself time to actually receive your passport.
There will also be an expedited service option that can make things go a little bit faster. You can choose to pay more money to get your passport issued to you within two or three weeks. This is substantially faster, but it’s still not immediate. For most people, it’s still going to be practical to just apply for a passport far enough in advance.
If you need to travel abroad due to an emergency, then it’ll be possible to make use of a really fast expedited passport option. This is available at agency locations and can get you your passport within eight days. You have to meet certain criteria to qualify for this, though. You have to be facing an immediate life or death emergency or be traveling within two weeks to make use of this.
Passport Book Versus Passport Card
You’ll also want to know that there are two different types of passports that you can apply for. There is the passport card and the passport book. Passport books are going to be the traditional types of passports that make traveling by air possible. If you plan on traveling to another country via airplane, then you’re going to want to apply for a passport book.
Passport cards are going to be a lot less expensive to get. The only downside is that they don’t allow you to enter other countries via airplane. You’ll be able to get into other countries by land or by sea using the passport card. Also, you can’t use a passport card to enter all countries.
The passport card will allow you to enter Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda via land or sea. If you’re planning a vacation to Europe or Asia, then you need to pay the extra money to get yourself a passport book. It’s important to understand the restrictions that have been placed on the passport card. For most people, the passport book is going to be the better option, since it doesn’t come with the same strict limitations.
There is a certain convenience to the passport card, though. It’s a lot smaller and you can even fit it inside of your wallet. Even so, it just can’t do as much as a normal passport book. Consider where you want to travel and how you want to travel before coming to an ultimate decision.
Our Final Thoughts on US Passport Applications
Now that you’ve read all about how to apply for a passport, you should be ready to go out and get yours. If you’re thinking of traveling outside of the country anytime soon, then you need to take care of this right away. Standard service can take between four and six weeks to get your passport to you. As long as you get things started several months in advance, you shouldn’t have any problems keeping your travel plans.
Getting a passport doesn’t have to be a stressful situation. When you follow the rules and do your best to gather the necessary items, it’ll be a smooth experience. You can get your passport in your hands in time and you’ll be ready to go see the world. Remember to think about what type of passport you want and do your best to pick an option that works for you.
Renewing your passport will generally be easy too. US passports are valid for 10 years after they’re issued. This means that you’ll be able to go a long time without having to renew it. Also, you’ll usually be eligible to renew by mail so long as you don’t wait too long and let your passport lapse.