The U.S. Passport Application Process

When You’ll Need a U.S. Passport

Aspen Taylor of Dallas was plenty frazzled by all the details of planning her recent wedding, especially one item on her checklist: getting her first United States passport ever for a Caribbean honeymoon. It turned out she worried about that for nothing.”The process for us was easy,” she said. The best part? “The passport arrived when they said it would.”

If you need a passport for the first time or it’s time for a passport renewal, make it easy on yourself, by knowing the requirements and doing some basic planning before you apply or renew.

For instance, you probably know you’ll need a U.S. passport if you’re heading to Europe. If you’re just heading to Mexico or Canada, you still need a passport if traveling by plane; a “passport card” is necessary to re-enter the U.S. if you’re traveling by land or sea.

Our focus is on the regular air traveler’s document–often referred to as a passport book. You can find more information about U.S. passport requirements on the State Department’s site.

U.S. Passport Requirements

All international travelers from the United States must have their own passport – yes, even little kids and babies. However, anyone under the age of 16 follows slightly different rules for obtaining their first U.S. passport than an adult would; for instance, children need not apply in person. The State Department has more information about the passport requirements for minors and passports.

U.S. Passport Application

Adults who have never had a U.S. passport before must apply for it in person. Other passport situations that require in- person application include the following:

  • Your U.S. passport has been lost, stolen or damaged/destroyed
  • Your last U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago and requires passport renewal
  • Your name has changed since your last U.S. passport but you can’t document it
  • Your last U.S. passport was issued while you were a minor

If any of these apply to you, you have a couple of options. You can visit a U.S. Passport Agency. There are 22 of these offices around the country. You can also go to a Passport Acceptance Facility which includes some post offices, municipal offices and other locations designated by the government. You can find the closest facility to you by looking it up via your city or zip code.

What to Bring to a U.S. Passport Office

First, you should download the actual application called the DS-11 form – available online. But, DO NOT SIGN IT until you get to your passport office, and are instructed to do so by the passport agent.

What else will you need? Here’s the list:

  • Evidence of U.S. Citizenship – this can include a birth certificate or certificate of naturalization
  • Identification – This can be a driver’s license or military ID
  • Copies of the above – After you show the citizenship and ID documents, you’ll need to turn in photocopies with your passport application
  • Two passport size photos
  • Passport Fee

Passport Application Processing Times and Fees

Currently, the fee for a first time adult U.S. passport is $135 (a minor’s passport is $105, and an adult passport card is just $55). You can expect to receive your passport in 4 to 6 weeks. But say you’re in a hurry; can you speed this up? Yes.

You can get your passport a little faster by going through the “expedition” process. Basically, this means you pay more for speedier processing and delivery time. As of this writing, an expedited passport costs an additional $60 plus another $14.96 for overnight delivery, and that gets you your passport in 2 to 3 weeks (the U.S. State Department regularly updates processing times on its passport site).

If you have a “life or death emergency” situation, the State Dept. says to call or email the National Passport Information Center.

Note: You will see non-government websites promising to get you a passport in as little as 24 hours, for fees that can range from around fifty bucks to hundreds of dollars. Please read the fine print on such sites; I saw this disclaimer on one “expeditor” site that said, “We accept no responsibility for the services of U.S. Passport Services of the U.S. State Department or any Consulate or Embassy regarding the issuance of passports or visas.” So, buyer beware.

If you already have a passport, be sure you know when it expires, because some countries will deny entry to people if their passports expire a few months after their scheduled departure.

Passport Renewal

A U.S. passport renewal can be done via mail or in-person. Passport renewal by mail is acceptable only if your most recent U.S. passport:

  • Is undamaged and can be submitted with your application
  • Was issued at age 16 or older
  • Was issued within the last 15 years
  • Was issued under your current name or you can provide legal documentation of a name change under which it was issued

If you meet the above requirements and are located in the United States or Canada, complete the DS-82 form and mail to the address indicated on the form. For U.S. citizens located outside the United States, the renewal process must be completed at the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. More details on passport renewal can be found on the state department’s site.

Now go get that passport – and have a wonderful time, no matter where your travels take you. And remember, to use the FareCompare dealfinder when looking for the best deals to international destinations.

Please share your experiences obtaining a U.S. passport–the good, the bad, and the ugly–with us below.

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Published: November 22, 2010