How to Get a USA Passport

7 Steps to Get a USA Passport

Passport -- Your Most Important Travel Document
Passport Cover (c) Linda Garrison

Getting a passport before your cruise is critical. All cruises with ports of call outside the United States require a passport, except those to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, and Mexico. For those destinations, a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) - compliant document is acceptable for those traveling by land or sea, but I don't recommend it.

A passport book is much more flexible, and travelers leaving the USA should buy one, even though they are more expensive than the passport card. Why? Here's a great example. If a cruise traveler had to return home due to an emergency (either at home or in a foreign country), he/she would not be able to fly back to the USA without a passport book. A U.S. passport is good for 10 years and allows the holder to travel most of the world. The documentation requirements are the same, so travelers might as well make the investment and get a passport book.

A normal driver's license, birth certificate, or other type of identification is NOT adequate proof. An adult's passport book is good for 10 years, but you will need to renew 8-9 months before it expires since many countries require at least 6 months validity for entry. Those flying into the USA from another country need a passport.

Difficulty: Hard for first time passports; easy for renewals if you have expiring passport

Time Required: 4 to 6 weeks

Here's How:

  1. Obtain proof of citizenship such as a certified copy of your birth certificate (from the state where you were born), a Consular report of birth abroad, an expired passport, or naturalization certificate. 
  2. Have two passport pictures made at a local merchant (check yellow pages). If you are traveling to countries that require a Visa, you will need additional photos for it. Companies like Travisa or GenVisa can expedite passport or Visa processing for you.
  3. Complete online passport application from State Department website or Download PDF forms to complete, print, and mail in to State Deptartment.
  4. Prepare payment. Acceptable forms of payment vary among locations, but usually include check or credit card. Cost (March 2017) is --
    • Age 16 and older (first time): The passport application fee is $110. The execution fee is $25. The total is $135.
    • Under Age 16: The passport application fee is $80. The execution fee is $25. The total is $105.
    • Renewal: The Passport renewal fee is $110.
    • Expedited Service: Add $60 for each application
  5. Be sure to check mailing address when completing application envelope. The address differs based on where you live.
  6. Go to nearest passport acceptance facility to pay and mail. The 7,000 acceptance facilities include many Federal, state and probate courts, post offices, some public libraries and a number of county and municipal offices. There are also 13 regional passport agencies, which serve customers who are traveling within 2 weeks (14 days), or who need foreign visas for travel. Appointments are required in such cases.
  7. Wait 4 to 6 weeks, depending on time of year. To receive your passport as soon as possible, you should arrange overnight delivery service for both sending your passport application and returning your passport to you.


  1. If you already have a passport, you can use it in lieu of a certified birth certificate.
  2. If you are willing to pay a $60 (or more) premium, you can obtain a passport in much less time.
  3. If you already have a passport, do not wait too late to renew. Many countries require at least 6 months validity for entry, so you will need to renew your passport 8-9 months before expiration.
  4. You can obtain a passport in 2 or 3 business days if you make a personal appointment at the nearest passport agency (in 13 U.S. cities) or use a professional passport expediting service. You will need to have tickets or an itinerary to prove that you need the expedited service.

What You Need:

  • Proof of citizenship
  • Completed passport forms
  • Photos
  • Payment - Form varies depending on payment location
  • Time for processing
Was this page helpful?