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.
When Do I Not Need a Passport?
In the past, passports were not required for travel to countries like Canada, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. However, in January 2007, the U.S. State Department began requiring passports for all air travel to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. This is known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).
As of June 1, 2009, a passport (or a WHTI-compliant alternative) is required for most land or sea travel to these destinations 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.
-Children 16 and under will still be able to travel to these destinations by land or sea by presenting proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).
-Groups of children under age 19, when traveling under adult supervision with a religious or school group, sports team, or social organization, may present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
Note: In all of the above cases, 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.
For more information, see GetYouHome.gov.
The State Department has developed a cheaper alternative to the traditional passport called the passport card, which started production in July 2008. 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.
Visit the Passport Center
First-Time Passport Applications
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.
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:
-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. Note that 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. (Note that the total price of a passport is composed of two different fees -- an application fee and an execution fee -- so you may need to write out two different checks when applying in person.) Passport renewal fees are $110. Some facilities are beginning to accept payment via credit and debit cards; call ahead to be sure.