International travel is fun and exciting. One of the first things you must do before you can get on that plane and go enjoy your trip is to obtain a passport, if you don’t already have one. It’s better if you apply for a passport several months before you plan to travel outside the country to avoid the extra fees that come with expediting.
Passports are valid for 10 years for anyone 16 and over and 5 years for minors (under the age of 16). If you’re doing a lot of international travel and your passport fills up before the expiration date, you will need to apply for a new one once the book is full, regardless of whether you still have time left on it or not. A few years ago, they used to issue extra pages so you didn’t have to renew before your expiration date, but they no longer do this. I suggest ordering the 52-page passport book instead of the 28-page book since there is no extra charge.
If you don’t want to fill in the application by hand you can fill in the application online and print it when you’ve completed it.
First-Timers & Minors
If you will be a first-time passport holder or you’re getting a passport for a minor (under 16 years of age) you will need to appear in person when applying for your passport. You will need to check either of the sites mentioned above for a passport acceptance office/agency or post office near you that you can make an appointment (some facilities do not require appointments, but it’s recommended.) First-time passport holders will need to fill out form DS-11. Print and fill the forms out in advance. Do not sign your name to the form when filling it out in advance. The application must be signed in the presence of an authorized passport agent.
Other items you must supply when applying for a passport the first time is proof that you’re a U.S. citizen. This evidence is your birth certificate. You must supply an original or certified copy of your birth certificate, as well as a photocopy of the birth certificate. If you don’t want to submit a photocopy you must bring a second certified copy. This applies for minors as well. You must also present your ID (valid drivers license; temporary drivers license; a valid or expired, undamaged passport; U.S. military or military dependent ID; government employee ID; certificate of naturalization or citizenship; U.S. permanent resident green card; valid foreign passport; Matricula consular – Mexican consular ID or Trusted traveler ID, such as Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST cards), along with a photocopy of the back and front of this identification (photocopies cannot be double-sided, they must be single sided, on 8.5”x11” standard, white paper).
In addition to the application form an original/certified birth certificate and a copy of the birth certificate and your ID of choice along with a front and back photocopy of that ID, you’ll also need to provide a 2×2 inch photo. The photo must be taken against a white or off-white background with your head centered. You need to be facing the camera head on and have a neutral face. You cannot wear glasses, hats or earbuds in the photo. It needs to be printed on matte or glossy photo paper and be properly lit. Some passport offices, post offices and pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid and other locations provide passport photos for a nominal fee (usually between $10-$15.)
I know I look like I could play a prison inmate on ‘Orange Is The New Black’, but I thought I would put my pride and vanity (LOL!) to the side and give you an example of what the passport photo should look like. (Don’t judge me, lol. I wasn’t having the best hair day and I think the Uber dropped me off in the wrong location and I ended up walking a long way in the hot sun in Cape Town before getting to the shop that took this hideous picture.)
Only Applies to Minors
The additional documents that must be submitted for minors (under 16 years of age) is proof that you are their parent or legal guardian, which can be in the form of the original or certified copy of the birth certificate, foreign birth certificate, divorce/custody decree, adoption decree or consular report of birth abroad. As the parent or legal guardian you will need to present your ID (valid drivers license; a valid, undamaged passport; U.S. military or military dependent ID; government employee ID; certificate of naturalization or citizenship; valid foreign passport or Matricula consular – Mexican consular ID) and provide a copy (front and back) of this same identification.
The last document that you will need to provide for a minor is proof of parental consent. Both parents have to approve of a minor’s passport, which means you either both have to appear in person with the minor. If one of the parents cannot be present, that parent must fill out and submit form DS-3053, which is a “Statement of Consent” and they must have the form notarized (for some countries a regular notary republic won’t do, you’ll need a notary from the American embassy or consulate to affix their stamp/seal.) That parent will also need to submit a photocopy of the front and back of whichever ID they presented to the notary. If you’re the sole legal guardian you will need to show evidence of that in the form of either a court order that grants sole custody; a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate listing you as the only parent; death certificate if other parent is deceased; certified copy of an adoption decree; copy of a court order that is permitting you to apply for the child’s passport or a judicial declaration of incompetence for the absent parent.
If the other parent cannot be located then you will need to fill out form DS-5525 “Statement of Exigent/Family Circumstances. Supporting documentation may be required.
If neither parent can be present then a third-party can apply. A notarized DS-3053 statement is required from each parent, along with the photocopy (front and back) of ID’s. In the case of only one parent, the third-party must supply the evidence of that parent’s sole custody, which I covered earlier.
If your child is 16 or 17 years of age and they have their own form of acceptable identification (ex. valid drivers license) they can apply for a passport on their own. The only additional requirement besides the DS-11 application form, original/certified copy of birth certificate and photocopy, a copy of either your or your parents ID (acceptable ID’s have been mentioned previously) and a passport photo, is to show parental awareness. This would either be the parent accompanying them to the appointment and presenting their ID, along with a photocopy and signing the DS-11 application in the presence of a passport acceptance agent. The other way to show parental awareness is to present a notarized statement of consent from at least one parent, which should be accompanied by a photocopy of the front and back of their ID.
If you need to renew and you can submit your old passport, you’ve had a passport within the last fifteen years, your last passport was issued when you were 16 years of age or older, your current passport isn’t damaged then you must fill out form DS-82 and renew your passport via mail. You cannot go to an acceptance facility for an appointment if you’re renewing. It must be mailed.
If your name has changed since your last passport then you will need to submit a certified legal copy of the name change document, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree or court ordered name change.
You’ll also need to provide a new 2×2 inch photo. The photo must be taken against a white or off-white background with your head centered. You need to be facing the camera head on and have a neutral face. You cannot wear glasses, hats or earbuds in the photo. It needs to be printed on matte or glossy photo paper and be properly lit. Some passport offices, post offices and pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid provide passport photos for a nominal fee (usually between $10-$15.) Attach the photo to your application by stapling it vertically to a top corner. Make sure the photo isn’t bent.
Once you have your recent passport, the completed application, photo and check for all your fees you’ll need to mail your renewal application and accompanying documents through the United States Post Office (USPS). You cannot use Fedex, UPS or any other courier/mailing because it is being delivered to a P.O. Box. It’s highly encouraged to pay for tracking.
Passport fees are $110 for adults and $80 for minors. In addition, first-time applicants must pay an execution fee of $35 whether you apply at a passport agency or the post office. Make sure to check, whichever facility you will be going to, to see what payment methods are accepted because not every agency/facility accepts credit/debit cards. Some may only accept cash, check, certified check or money order. So double check so that you can be prepared.
The routine turnaround time for getting your passport returned is typically 4-6 weeks, but don’t be surprised if it sometimes runs longer than this.
Expediting fees are usually $60. If you choose to get your passport expedited, 2-3 weeks is the processing time in which you can expect to receive your passport. You can expedite in person or via mail.
Some things to note: Always check to see if a country requires a certain amount of time to be left on your passport for entry. There are some countries that require your passport be valid at least 6 months beyond the dates of your travel.
Secondly, if you owe child support in the amount of $2500 you cannot be issued a passport.
Once you have that shiny, new passport in your hand, check out one of my favorite passport covers to keep your passport protected from wear and tear. Once you’re passport ready and looking to dive into planning your first international trip? Check out my blog post where I share travel planning tips to help you have a smooth international trip.
*The information contained in this article only pertains to U.S. citizens. If you’re from another country you will need to check with your government’s website on the correct process for applying for a passport.
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