Getting a passport is relatively easy for United States citizens, but the process can be lengthy. First-time international travelers should start the process as early as possible to avoid any last-minute planning stress.
The U.S. Department of State, which is responsible for issuing passports, outlines the requirements for getting a passport on their website. Before applying for your first passport, you’ll need to do the following:
- Find your birth certificate or any legal documentation of United States citizenship along with your Driver’s License or other government-issued ID
- Photocopy both documents according to these regulations
- Fill out Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport
- Be prepared to pay a fee for your passport. The current fee for first-time adult applicants is around $135
- Gather all of the above and find a location that is certified to take passport photos
Because passport photos have to follow strict guidelines, it is worth spending $5 – $15 to ensure having an approvable photo. I went to Walgreens to apply for my first passport, and many other drugstores offer the service as well.
Once you have all of your documents in place, use the United States Post Office locator tool to find a Post Office that accepts passport applications. The USPS website recommends applying for a passport several months before you intend to travel, and offers an estimation of the current processing time. For an additional $60, the Post Office offers an expedited service for faster processing of your passport application.
After the application has been submitted, you can find out how to track your application on the U.S. Department of State website, usually available a week after the application has been submitted. In order to track your application, you need to enter your last name, date of birth, and the last four digits of your social security number.
Once your passport application has been processed, you will receive your new passport in the mail. Congratulations! You’re ready to travel the globe! Passports are valid for several years, and renewal can be done through the mail. Your passport can be used like any other government-issued ID and should be stored in a secure location. Report your passport as lost or stolen to avoid identity theft but remember that if you find your passport after reporting it, you will not be able to use it to travel.