How to Get A Passport in the USA

Applying for a U.S. Passport is Quick, Easy, and Hassle-Free

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A passport is an easily recognized travel document authorizing travel and identifying you to governments around the world. You need a passport to enter and return to the United States from most countries, and it's worth getting, even if you don't have any upcoming travel planned. Get a passport through the US government, not commercial passport application agencies, even if you need to get a passport fast -- they don't speed up the process any more than you can.

Here's how to get a passport in the United States. 

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: Indefinite

What You Need to Apply for a Passport

  • Passport application forms
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Proof of your identity
  • Two current photographs
  • Your social necurity number
  • Applicable fee payment method

Step 1: The first step requires you to download the relevant U.S. government forms. You can grab a passport application from any U.S. post office, or download the passport application forms online and print them out from home. 

If printing, note this advice from the government: "The forms...must be printed in black print on white paper. The paper must be 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, with no holes or perforations, at least medium (20 lb.) weight, and with a matte surface. Thermal paper, dye-sublimation paper, special inkjet paper, and other shiny papers are not acceptable."

Step 2: Once you've got the passport application form in hand, start by reading the instructions that are printed on the first and second page.

Complete page 3 using this information, and then read page four for further details on filling in the form. 

Step 3: Next, you need to gather proof of your American citizenship, in the form of any one of the following, according to the US Department of State.

  • Certified U.S. birth certificate issued by the city, county or state (not a copy - call the government of the state in which you were born to get an official version with a notary's seal. Know that the birth certificate must list the full name(s) of your parent(s).) Learn how to get a passport if you don't have a birth certificate -- it is still possible.

Be prepared to prove your identity with any one of these:

  • Previous US passport (altered or damaged passports are not okay)
  • Naturalization certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship
  • Current, valid:
    • Driver's license
    • Government ID: city, state or federal
    • Military ID: military and dependents

Step 4: Get two passport photos taken to submit with your application. In your photos, you should make sure to wear your normal, everyday clothes (no uniforms) and nothing on your head. If you usually wear glasses or other items that alter your appearance, wear them. Look straight ahead and don't smile. You can get your U.S. passport photos taken at the post office -- they'll know the drill and requirements. If you get passport photos taken elsewhere, read up first on passport photo requirements to make sure they'll qualify.

Step 5: If you don't have your Social Security number memorized, write it down and add it to the materials you've assembled -- you'll need it at the time of passport application.

Step 6: Prepare to pay the application and execution fees; get those dollar amounts online as they change periodically.

At present (2017),passport fees are $110 plus $25. For an extra $60 plus overnight fees, you can get a passport fast (more on rush time frames in Step 8). Check with the location where you'll be applying to find what payment methods are accepted, and then gather the money for payment.

Step 7: Get a passport! Find the passport office location nearest you (it might just be the post office). Hand in your completed forms, passport photos, and money for the passport. Provide your departure date for your next trip and you can then expect to receive your US passport in two weeks to two months. For an additional fee of $60 plus overnight delivery fees, you can rush a US passport application, and you may even be able to get a U.S. passport on the same day that you apply. Learn more about rushing a US passport application -- you don't have to pay a passport expediting agency, so make sure you go directly through the government.

Any services claiming to rush your passport for you go through the exact same process as you would and can't speed up the processing time.

Step 8: Check your application's status: beginning about a week after you submit your application, you can check your application's status online to see when your passport might arrive. Most will arrive soon after that. 

Tips and Tricks for Applying for Your Passport

  1. The US passport fee is $110 (plus $25 fee) if you are over 18, and the new US passport is good for ten years.
  2. The US passport fee is $80 (plus $25 fee) if you are under 16, and the new passport is good for five years.
  3. Some countries require that your passport be valid for a six month period after you leave that country for return to the U.S. -- make sure you apply for a new one while you have plenty of valid months left on it. 
  4. Remember that you need a passport or other WHTI-compliant document to travel back to the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
  5. Leave a copy of your passport at home, and email a copy to yourself with other important travel documents. If you lose your passport overseas, having a copy will make getting a temporary or replacement passport far easier. Learn how and why to email yourself travel documents.

 

 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff