How do I apply for a U.S. Passport?

I view my passport as my key to the world. The passport is an official document, issued by the Department of State, which identifies you as a United States Citizen, and entitles you to move freely around the globe, in accordance with international law. Previously, Americans were able to travel freely to Canada and destinations in the Caribbean without a passport, but a valid passport has been required since 2009.

In this article, I will share with you the steps on applying for your first passport. The State Department website has the full (and more detailed) instructions, but I’ll provide tips on how best to complete what is required. You can see the State Department instructions at…

Step One: Fill Out The Application For A U.S. Passport

The application is recognized as Form DS-11. You can download the application in PDF form and complete it by hand, or you can fill it out online and print it once completed.

You MUST provide all required information on the form, including your Social Security Number. DO NOT sign the form until you have been instructed to do so, by the agent receiving your application.

Step Two: Take A Passport Photo

Most application acceptance centers do not have the equipment to take photos. The most convenient place to have a passport photo taken is at a major drugstore, like a CVS or Walgreens.

Woman Taking A Passport Photo

The photo you submit with your application must meet the following requirements:

  • Full color, printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper.
  • 2×2 inches in total size, 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.
  • Taken within the last 6 months and reflective of your appearance at the time of application.
  • Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background.
  • Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera.
  • Taken with a neutral face expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.

Photographs that do not meet all of these requirements will be rejected, delaying your application significantly.

Step Three: Gather Evidence To Prove Your Citizenship & Identity

You must submit one of the following to confirm your citizenship:

  • Previously issued U.S. Passport.
  • Certified, valid U.S. Birth Certificate. Photocopies are not valid.
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth.
  • Naturalization Certificate.
  • Certificate of Citizenship.

You WILL have to surrender the document proving your citizenship when you submit your application. This document will be returned to you via mail.

You will also need to bring a form of photo identification to prove your identity The following are acceptable:

  • Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport.
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship.
  • Fully-valid Driver’s License.
  • Current Government Employee ID (city, state or federal).
  • Current Military ID.

Step Four: Photocopy Your ID Documents

You will need to submit a photocopy of BOTH sides of the ID you plan to present. Photocopies should be made on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper and contain no markings of any other kind. You CANNOT copy on both sides of the paper. You can submit two sheets, one with the front of the ID, the other with the back of the ID.

Step Five: Understand The Fees And Determine How You’ll Pay

The fee for a new passport registration is $110 plus a $25 administration/execution fee. You can be issues a passport ID card as well, for an additional $30. Renewals follow this same fee schedule, but without the $25 execution fee.

Special services and expedited processing carry an extra cost. See the Department of State’s website for a full list of passport fees and payment options.

Step Six: Submit Your Application – In Person

First time applicants must submit their passport application in person. You can do this at one of the 27 Regional Passport Agencies, or at a local Acceptance Facility. Acceptance Facilities tend to be inside Clerk of Court offices, Post Offices, and at Universities. Use the Acceptance Facility search tool to locate the one nearest to you.

If you are a student at a college or university, it is very likely that your university operates an acceptance facility on campus. Be sure to check, as this can save you time, money and hassle!

Once your application has been submitted, it will be sent for processing and your passport will typically arrive within 8 to 10 weeks.