Deciding whether to visit European castles, snorkel in the Caribbean, try sushi in Japan, or climb Machu Picchu? Planning a vacation is fun. But, well before packing for any destination outside the U.S., make sure you have a current passport. If not, you need to allow ample time to get one.
Where to Apply
The easiest way to apply for a passport is through the mail. However, only adults renewing still-valid passports can do that. Everybody else must apply in person.
You can apply at an “Acceptance Facility;” these include post offices, libraries or other state, county, township, and municipal government offices, depending on your area. The State Department has a tool to locate facilities. Post offices are usually the most convenient. To find one that offers passport services, use the USPS Locator Tool.
Other places may advertise that they handle passports; they typically require an appointment and a fee.
What Documents Are Needed
To apply for a passport, you need:
- Government Form DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport. Print the application, fill it in online, or get one at the Post Office.
- Evidence of U.S. Citizenship. This can be a previous, but still valid U.S. Passport, a government-certified birth certificate, a consular report of birth abroad, or a naturalization or citizenship certificate. Note: When applying, they take your evidence of U.S. citizenship along with your application. Your papers will be returned in the mail, but make yourself a copy ahead of time so you have it.
- A photo ID and a photocopy of it. This can be a previous passport, a driver’s license, or a current military or government ID.
- Payment. A first-time adult passport costs $135. Renewals and minors cost less. You pay extra for expedited service and overnight mail. You can pay by cash, check, credit card or money order at most facilities.
- A Passport Photo. Passport photos are color headshot and a particular size. To get a photo that won’t be rejected, go to a place takes passport photos. Many post offices that accept passport applications take pictures too (for a separate fee). Check which ones do on the USPS web site.
Don’t attach the photo, staple the papers or sign the form ahead of time. Your application can be rejected if things are done correctly, so don’t take chances. Bring everything and let them put it together and tell you when to sign and where.
Allowing Ample Time
Apply long before your trip. It can take months (4-10 weeks, depending upon demand) to receive your passport.
In special circumstances, the process can be expedited. But you need a compelling reason, such as proof of need. For example, my husband got his passport renewed in 24 hours when a family member was hospitalized in another country. The foreign doctors had to tell the State Department that it was a “medical emergency” and he should come immediately.
All children, even infants, need their own passport. Children’s passports are cheaper, but only last five years (versus 10 for adults). Both parents apply with the child, provide consent and show proof of relationship (such as a custody order or birth certificate). They need their own appropriate IDs (plus photocopies of those IDs). If both parents cannot be present, the parent applying must have notarized consent from the second parent or proof of sole custody. (Also, if a child is traveling with only one parent or another relative, they must take along a notarized letter from the parent(s) not traveling giving permission to take the child out of the country.)
Minors aged 16 or 17 can apply for adult passports but still require parental consent. However, they do not need a letter granting permission to travel.