Last year, more than one BILLION people traveled internationally. If you were in that group of lucky ducks, I congratulate you, and most likely this post is not for you. But chances are better you’re part of the six billion (plus) who did not travel internationally last year. So, if you’ve never had a passport—or need to renew your old, expired passport—this week’s blog post is for you!
This week we are focusing on plain Jane passport requirements—passports that don’t require any special treatment. We’ll discuss children’s passports and other unusual situations in a couple of weeks.
So, how do you get your first passport? (Renewers, this post contains information for you, too—don’t skip ahead!)
Applying for your first passport really isn’t that difficult, but all of the requirements can seem a bit intimidating. You just need to make sure you have all the correct documents with you. Luckily I’ve made a list of steps for you below!
Step 1: Fill Out Form DS-11
Form DS-11 can be found here. You can either print it and fill it out by hand, or (the way I prefer) fill it out online and print it. Everything on the form must be accurate under penalty of perjury, so you don’t want someone to try to read your chicken scratches and get something wrong, right? Plus, when you fill it out online, you’re much less likely to forget a section. (Though, as I learned, that’s not entirely foolproof…) Whichever way you choose, you’ll get through the whole process faster if you’ve already completed your form before going to the passport acceptance agency.
To fill out the form you’ll need to know your name (I have full confidence in your knowledge), date of birth, social security number, address, as well as information about your parents (DOB, place of birth, and gender), spouse (if you have one), your physical characteristics, place of work, and emergency contact information.
So now you’ve got your boring form all printed and filled out. Let’s move on to the more glamorous Step 2!
Step 2: Get Your Passport Photo Taken
Your passport photo has a preposterous amount of requirements. I’m not going to list them all here, but I will to link to them. I highly, HIGHLY recommend getting your picture taken at a place that specializes in taking passport photos. Why? Well, because of nit-picky requirements phrased like this: “sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (between 25 and 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.” It’s much easier and much less stressful to get a professional to take your picture than to show up at the post office or other passport acceptance agency and have your picture rejected.
I got my passport photo taken at AAA because I am a member of AAA. I only had to pay $10. (Non-members pay $15.) The good news is the post office will take your photo (also for $15). So you could save a trip, if you’re not a AAA member, and just get your picture taken at the post office while you’re getting your new passport!
Okay, so now we’ve got the boring form and the glamorous passport photo. We’re getting close!
Step 3: A Photocopy of your ID
This one sound like it has a lot of rules attached, but if you just copy your driver’s license (or other government-issued ID) front and back and print it on normal 8½x11 white paper, you’ll be good to go!
Step 4: Gather Proof of US Citizenship
This cannot be a copy: no photocopies or notarized copies. You must be ready to part with your birth certificate (or other proof of citizenship) for the duration it takes to get your passport made, usually around 3-6 weeks. They WILL return it—never fear!
(Guys, we’re so close to the end. I know you can get through this less-than-exciting post!)
Step 5: Write a Check or Get a Money Order
Your choice of processing speed (expedited or routine) determines the final cost of your passport. I recommend bringing your checkbook, because when I renewed, the price quoted to me online was slightly higher than the one I actually had to pay at the post office. It would really stink to get a money order and have it be the wrong amount.
Step 6: Go to the Passport Acceptance Agency
A passport acceptance agency can be an independent business, but most are post offices. Now, keep in mind not all post offices are passport acceptance agencies, but there’s a good chance there’s one in your town or nearby. You can go here, type in your zip code, and find the closest passport acceptance agency near you!
Should you set up an appointment or just drop in? In my latest experience, I just dropped in, and it took me a total of 30 minutes—waiting to be served included. But, if I had been just 10 minutes later, I would have been behind a family of 8, all getting new passports. In addition, some non-post-office passport acceptance agencies require appointments. So it’s on you to know that ahead of time!
As long as you brought everything mentioned in the previous steps, you’ll be good to go! You cannot get your passport without completing all those steps, tempting as they are to skip.
What if you just need to renew, did you just waste your precious time reading all that?
If you were older than 16 when your expired passport was issued, you can renew by mail.
Step 1: Fill Out Form DS-82
Step 2: Gather Your Old Passport
(Step 2 B: Submit a certified copy of your marriage license or court order if your name has changed.)
Step 3: Write Your Check
Step 4: Get Your Passport Photo
Step 5: Mail It All!
If you were younger than 16 when your expired passport was issued (like I was), you have to renew in person just as if you were getting a new passport. However, you will use your old passport as proof of US citizenship.
Now you know! Getting a passport isn’t scary even a little bit now that you’re full-to-bursting with sweet, sweet passport knowledge!
If you've got more passport questions or are looking to plan your next trip, contact me here!
Now get out there and go!