get a U.S. passport

One of the most valuable documents in the world is the U.S. passport. With it, there are only a few places you can’t travel to, and, when you’re abroad, it can sometimes protect you. If you don’t have one, this post will help you learn what you need to get a U.S. passport.

Table of Contents

  1. How to Get a U.S. Passport
  2. DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport
  3. Documents Required for a U.S. Passport
  4. U.S. Passport Fees
  5. How to Get a U.S. Passport for a Child
  6. Where to Submit U.S. Passport Application
  7. U.S. Passport Application Processing Time
  8. How to Check Passport Application Status
  9. How to Get a U.S. Passport From Outside the U.S.
  10. Passport Book vs. Passport Card

 

How to Get a U.S. Passport

Although we all want one, only U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals are eligible for a U.S. passport. A U.S. national is someone from American Samoa or Swain’s Island.

If you are not currently a U.S. citizen, you can go through the naturalization process and receive a U.S. passport as soon as you complete the process.

If you are eligible, the process to get a U.S. passport is fairly simple.

DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport

How to Get a U.S. Passport
The first page of form DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport.

Form DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport, is the only form needed for those applying for a U.S. passport for the first time. To fill out the form, you need to have responses to the following topics:

  1. Basic biographical information
  2. Social Security Number
  3. Email address and phone number
  4. Address information
  5. Information regarding any previous name changes
  6. Parental information
  7. Marital history
  8. Occupation and employer information if applicable
  9. School information if applicable
  10. Travel plans if applicable
  11. Emergency contact information

It’s important to know that only the top half should be filled out by the applicant on the first page and then continue on the second page of the application. After you’ve filled out the form, make sure you do not sign it.

The U.S. State Department allows you to fill out the form online using their form filler tool.

Documents Required for U.S. Passport Application

Along with your DS-11, you need to submit the following documents:

  1. U.S. Citizenship Proof
  2. Identification
  3. Photographs

Evidence of U.S. Citizenship

The State Department requires primary evidence of citizenship but will accept secondary evidence if primary evidence isn’t available.

The State Department states the following as primary evidence:

  • U.S. birth certificate
  • If born outside the U.S., you can submit one of the following:
    • Consular report of birth abroad
    • Naturalization Certificate
    • Citizenship Certificate

The following are examples of secondary evidence:

  • A delayed birth certificate that states how it was created and has a signature of a birth attendant or affidavit signed by parents
  • Letter of No Record
    • This is a letter issued by the state registrar
    • Should state applicant’s name and birthdate
    • Should list the years the birth certificate was searched along with a statement that no birth certificate exists

If you submit one of the two options for secondary evidence, you must also submit early public records. These public records need to have the applicant’s full name, birth date, and place of birth. The following are examples of early public records:

  • Hospital birth certificate that show’s baby footprints
  • Baptism certificate
  • Census records
  • School records
  • Medical records of post-natal care

If you become a U.S. citizen due to a parent naturalizing, make sure to submit your foreign birth certificate that lists your parents, your parent’s naturalization certificate, and a copy of your green card.

When submitting citizenship evidence, make sure it is a photocopy of the original document or certified copy.

Identification

If you’re over 18, you must submit a physical photo identification and a photocopy of the identification. Primary photo identification includes one of the following:

  • State-issued driver’s license
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
  • Government employee ID
  • U.S. military ID
  • A valid current foreign passport
  • Green Card

Digital identification is not accepted.

If you don’t have primary photo identification, you need to submit at least two secondary photo identification examples. Examples of secondary photo identification include:

  • State-issued non-driver ID
  • Learner’s or temporary state-issued ID
  • Social Security card
  • Student ID
  • Work ID
  • Draft card
  • Voter registration card
  • Expired driver’s license

U.S. Passport Photo Guide

Although a simple application, the most burdensome part of the DS-11 is submitting the photo placed in your passport.

The left image is what the State Department will accept for a passport photo with a white background, natural expression, accurate color, and correct size. The photo on the right would be denied due to the color background, natural expression, head placement and size, and the hat that isn’t worn for religious purposes.

 

Your passport photo’s basic requirements are that it be taken in the last six months, with a clear white background, neutral expression, accurate color, and nothing obscuring the face, including glasses and hats.

To avoid having your application delayed due to an unacceptable photo, it is best to pay to have the photos at the many businesses that offer passport photo services due to the more technical requirements. The technical requirements of your photo are:

  • Printed on matte or glossy photo paper
  • Measure 2 in. by 2 in.
  • Your head must cover 1 -1 3/8 inches of the frame and be centered.
  • Not digitally altered

Questions about attire are raised all the time. You should wear the kind of attire you wear daily. The following are items you can’t wear:

  1. Eyeglasses unless they can’t be removed due to medical reasons and you submit documentation from your physician
  2. Any headphones
  3. Any uniform or camouflage fabric
  4. Any hats or head coverings
    1. If you wear head coverings for religious purposes, you must submit a signed document that this head covering is something you wear continuously every day. However, your face and hairline must be visible if you wear a head covering.
    2. If you wear a head covering for medical purposes, you must submit a signed document from your physician.

U.S. Passport Fees

For first time applicants, the U.S. passport fee is $145. The fees are broken down as follows:

  • DS-11 fee: $110, which is paid directly to the State Department
  • Execution fee: $35, which is paid directly to the facility accepting

How to Get a U.S. Passport for a Child

The U.S. takes the distribution of a passport to a minor very seriously to avoid any situation where a child receives a passport without one of the parents or guardians knowing. Both parents of a minor under the age of 16 need to provide consent for that minor to receive a passport and must be present when submitting the application.

The process is similar to a normal application where the same DS-11 form is required. The same citizenship and identification documents are required. However, additional documents need to be submitted proving the parental relationship with the minor. Both parents also need to bring both original and photocopies of photo identification for the minor’s application.

The photo requirements are the same. However, you can place a baby on the ground on top of a white background for the photo.

Fees are reduced for minors. If your child is under 16 years old, the total fees are $115. The fees breakdown to $80 for the application fee and $35 for the execution fee.

Children 16 and 17 years old go through the same process as an adult and pay the same fees as an adult. The only extra thing they need to submit is a signed, notarized statement for their parent or guardian saying they are aware of the application. There is no need for a signed, notarized statement if the parent accompanies the child to submit the application.

Where to Submit U.S. Passport Application

If you are in the U.S., there are many acceptance facilities to submit your passport application. Many post offices offer this service. The best way to see the nearest acceptance facility is to use the State Department’s Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page and enter your zip code and desired radius.

U.S. Passport Application Processing Time

It is currently taking 10-12 weeks to process U.S. passport applications.

Expediting U.S. Passport Application

If you’re in a rush, it is possible to expedite your U.S. passport application. You can expedite your application with a 4–6 week timeframe or even as fast as 3 business days.

4—6 Week Passport Application Processing Time

If you’re traveling within the next 4—10 weeks, you can have your passport application expedited at any passport acceptance facility. You must be in the U.S. to have the passport expedited and pay an additional $60 fee.

3 Business Day Passport Application Processing Time

If your travel is in less than 4 weeks and you have urgent travel plans, you can have your application processed in 3 business days by getting an appointment at a passport agency.

If you have a life or death emergency of an immediate family member that requires you to travel within 72 hours, you can get your passport expedited by calling 1-877-487-2778 Monday through Friday 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Eastern time. The State Department defines a life or death emergency as one of the following:

  • Serious illness
  • Serious injury
  • Death

The State Department considers an immediate family member as a parent, guardian, sibling, spouse, child, or grandparent.

With your application, you need to submit the following documents to receive a life or death expedition:

  • English versions or translations of death certificates, mortuary statement, or signed letter from medical or hospital professional
  • Proof of international travel related to the emergency

How to Check Passport Application Status

You can check your application status 14 days after submitting it. The best tool to use is the online tracking tool. All you need to submit is your last name, date of birth, and the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number.

How to Get a U.S. Passport From Outside the U.S.

If you’re applying for a U.S. passport for the first time outside the country, the process is the same. The only differences are that the fees are different, and your place to submit your application is different. Check with the local consulate or embassy for fees and location.

Passport Book vs. Passport Card

U.S. Passport Card

 

The passport card is the little known alternative to the U.S. passport book. The card is a wallet-size card similar to other photo identification cards. However, the card doesn’t have the full privileges the book has.

You can only use the card at sea and land border crossings traveling from the following areas:

  • Bermuda
  • The Caribbean
  • Canada
  • Mexico

You cannot use the card for international air travel.

The fee for the passport book is $65.

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It is important to remember that to receive a U.S. passport you must be a citizen. If you need help with the citizenship process make sure to contact our expert attorneys.