How to Obtain a Passport & Why You Need One

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Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Passport

Getting a passport for the first time may seem like an intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be. Our simple step-by-step guide to obtaining your passport will clarify exactly what you need to do as well as how and when to do it.

First, let’s take a look at the reasons why you may need a passport, and what the difference is between a passport and a passport card. Passports are not required to US Territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

Passports are required for:
• Any international travel
• Travel to Canada or Mexico by air

US citizens may use a passport card if they are traveling to Mexico or Canada by land or sea (car or cruise) as one is less expensive than a traditional passport.

Let’s now look at the step-by-step guide to obtaining a passport for a first time applicant.

Step 1: Fill out Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport

The form may be filled out online or by hand, but DO NOT sign the form.

Step 2: Gather Citizenship Documents

When submitting your passport application, citizenship identification documents will be mailed in along with your form. These documents will be returned to you in the mail along with your passport.  This typically occurs six weeks from the time of application. Primary proof of citizenship includes:
• Certified Birth Certificate with a registrar’s seal including full names of applicant’s parents
• Consular Report of Birth Abroad
• Naturalization Certificate
• Certificate of Citizenship

Step 3: Make Photocopies of Identification Documents

A legible photocopy of one of the following documents will be submitted along with your application. The photocopy must be on plain 8 ½ x 11 paper showing both the front and back of the ID.
• Valid Driver’s License – if applying out of state, a secondary will be required.
• Naturalization Certificate
• Current Government ID
• Current Military ID

Step 4: Obtain a Passport Photo

Several passport facilities offer on-site photography services. When looking for a facility, you can set the search requirements to include Photo On-Site. The State Department recommends a professional passport photo service. For convenience, we also recommend finding a passport facility where the picture can be taken on-site. This eliminates any errors or delays. If you opt to take your own photo, please follow the requirements listed below.

If you prefer to take your own photo, please follow these requirements (reprinted from, and have the photo with you when you arrive at the passport agency.  Photo must be:
• In color, printed on photo quality paper
• 2 x 2 inches in size
• Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
• Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
• Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
• Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
• With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
• Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis:

    • Uniforms should not be worn in your photo, except religious clothing that is worn daily.
    • Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose.
    • Headphones, wireless hands-free devices or similar items are not acceptable in your photo.
    • If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device or similar articles, they may be worn for your photo.
    • Dark glasses or non-prescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required).
    • Glare on glasses is not acceptable in your photo. Glare can be avoided with a slight downward tilt of the glasses, by removing the glasses or by turning off the camera flash.

Step 5: Make an Appointment at a Passport Facility

Passport Acceptance Facilities are available at various government offices such as the US post office, public libraries, county clerk’s office and other government offices. To locate an acceptance facility near you, use the Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page. Additionally, you may apply directly at the Passport Agency; however, expedited fees will apply.

Step 6: Present all Forms and Identification Documents at Passport Facility

Please have the following with you when you arrive at the passport facility.
• Unsigned Application form (step 1)
• Citizen documents (step 2)
• Identification documents & photo copies (step 3)
• Passport photo (step 4) unless having photo taken at facility

Step 7: Pay Applicable Fees

The following fees apply to an adult first time applicant for a traditional passport. This does not apply to passport cards.
Adult Passport Book: $110
Execution Fee: $25
Expedited Service (optional): $60
Overnight Delivery (optional): $12.85

Please note that at acceptance facilities, only checks, money orders or exact cash amounts are accepted. The $25 execution fee is paid separately.

Step 8: Wait

Standard routine applications arrive approximately 4-6 weeks from the time of application. If expedited service is selected, door to door is about 2-3 weeks, with overnight delivery. You may track your application online approximately one week after the application has been submitted.

Additional requirements apply to minors under the age of 16. A passport card may be used for travel by land or sea. Fees are subject to change and are different requiring renewals.

Additional Requirements for Minors

Minors under the age of 16 will need to meet the following requirements in addition to the steps above:
1. Fill out form DS-11 but DO NOT sign
2. Provide Citizen Documents listed in Step 2 above
3. Submit Parent or Guardian proof of relationship which may include one of the following:

    • Minor’s US Birth certificate with both parent’s names
    • Minor’s certified Foreign Birth Certificate with both parents’ names
    • Minor’s Report of Birth Abroad with both parents’ names
    • Adoption Decree with adopting parents’ names
    • Court Order establishing custody
    • Court Order establishing guardianship

4. Present & Photocopy Parent or Guardian Identification documents listed in step 3 above. Parents must accompany minor to facility.
5. Provide Parental Consent – signing DS-11 in front of acceptance agent.

Passport only fees for minors:
Passport Book: $80
Execution Fee: $25
Expedited Service (optional): $60
Overnight Delivery (optional): $12.85

Please note that at acceptance facilities, only checks, money orders or exact cash amounts are accepted. The $25 execution fee is paid separately.  If possible, you should renew your passport approximately nine (9) months before it expires.  Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six (6) months beyond the dates of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met.

Let this be your guide to obtaining your passport to unforgettable travel experiences!