A passport is your ticket to travel the world! All U.S. citizens, including children, are required to obtain passports in their own names for identification while traveling abroad and for re-entry into the United States. Unless specifically authorized by a passport issuing office, no person may have more than one valid, or potentially valid, U.S. passport of the same type at any one time.
Following is a summary of the passport application process compiled from information provided by the U.S. State Department. You can find checklists of all the materials necessary for each type of application and download the appropriate forms in Passport Applications and Forms.
A passport is required for all international air travel and for most land or sea travel as well. However, there are a few exceptions:
- U.S. citizens on cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S. will only need to display proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID. (You may still need a passport to enter other foreign countries during the cruise.)
- Children 16 and under arriving by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean may present proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).
- A passport card may be used in lieu of a passport by adults traveling by land or sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean. See below for more information on the passport card.
Note: A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol tells us that copies of birth certificates are acceptable if you are unable to bring your original. Also, for adult cruise passengers, if the name on your birth certificate doesn't match the one on your driver's license (for example, if the former has your maiden name and the latter your married name), it's a good idea to bring along documentation of your name change -- such as a marriage certificate.
If you are applying for your first U.S. passport, you must apply in person at either a regional passport agency or at one of the thousands of facilities around the country that accept passport applications (such as courthouses and post offices). To find the nearest passport agency or facility, use this search tool from the U.S. State Department.
When you apply, you will need to provide the following documents:
- Proof of United States citizenship or nationality such as a certified copy of a birth certificate (one issued from a government office, not a hospital) for applicants born in the U.S., a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or an expired U.S. passport.
- Proof of identity (photo ID with signature) such as a previous U.S. passport, a Naturalization Certificate, a valid driver's license, or a valid government or military identification card. You'll also need to supply an 8 1/2 x 11 inch photocopy of this document (both front and back).
- One passport photo taken within the last six months. The photographs must be 2x2 inches with your head sized between 1 and 1 3/8 inches. Photographs must be a front view, full face, taken in normal street attire without a hat or dark glasses, with a plain white background.
- A completed passport application form DS-11 containing all the requested information except your signature. This form must be signed in the presence of an authorized executing official. You can fill out the form online, but note that you must print it out at the end and apply in person; there is no online application at this time.
Applicants who have had a previous U.S. passport issued within the past 15 years, and who were 16 or older when the passport was issued, may be eligible to apply for a new passport by mail provided that they can submit their previous passport and that either their name has not changed or they can legally document a name change. If these statements do not apply to you, you must follow the procedure for first-time passport applications (above). Documents required for passport renewals include:
- Previous U.S. passport
- One passport photo (see photo requirements above)
- A completed passport application form DS-82 that contains all the requested information and is signed and dated
If your name has changed due to marriage, divorce, adoption or court order, you must also include a certified copy of the document detailing your name change.
Mail the completed application, attachments and payment in a padded envelope to the address on the application form. There may be a different address if you've chosen expedited service.
Your previous passport will be returned to you with your new passport. (Please note that the two documents may be sent in separate mailings.)
Passport fees for an initial 10-year passport are $135 if you are 16 years of age or over, and $105 for a five-year passport if under 16. Passport renewal fees are $110. Some facilities accept payment via credit and debit cards; call ahead to be sure.
The State Department has developed a cheaper alternative to the traditional passport called the passport card. This card is not valid for any international air travel, but may be used instead of a passport for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The wallet-sized card contains an identification chip that can be read by a scanner up to 20 feet away, and costs $55 for adults and $40 for children. Adults who already have a traditional passport pay only $30 for the passport card.
The State Department frequently updates its website with its current passport processing times; under normal circumstances, expect your passport to be processed within four to six weeks.
Because the application processing time varies with passport agencies' workloads, we recommend applying at least two months before any scheduled international travel. The spring and summer months are the busiest, so the application process may take even longer.
Ordinary expedited service through the State Department takes about two to three weeks and costs $60 plus any delivery costs. If you are expediting a renewal by mail, be sure to write "EXPEDITE" clearly on the outside of the envelope.
If you are leaving on an emergency trip and need a passport immediately, call the National Passport Information Center (877-487-2778) to schedule an appointment at the nearest passport agency.
If you're in a hurry and you don't live near one of the passport agencies, you may also want to consider working with a passport and visa expeditor.
The State Department no longer allows travelers to purchase additional pages for their passport. If you run out of space, you'll have to apply for a new passport -- but frequent travelers can request a 52-page passport book (instead of the standard 28-page document) when you fill out your application.
If your name has been changed due to marriage or a court order a year or less after your passport was issued, your passport may be updated at no charge. You will need to submit a completed form DS-5504, an original or certified copy of the document specifying your name change, one new passport photo and your current valid passport to the address on the application form.
If your name was changed for any other reason or if you've had your passport more than a year, you'll need to use the same application and pay the same fees as you would for a normal passport renewal (see above).
When traveling abroad, carry your passport with you at all times in a safe place. It is a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport with you, along with an extra passport-size photo. If your passport is lost or stolen, U.S. embassies will usually accept this as proof that you're a U.S. citizen and can quickly issue you a temporary passport.
It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport with someone at home in case of emergency, and email an electronic copy of it to yourself so you can access it from anywhere in the world.
For more information, see Lost and Stolen Passports.
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