A U.S. passport is your ticket to travel around the world. But you may not be familiar with what passports really are, how they work, or how to get one if you haven’t traveled internationally before, or you traveled to Canada or Mexico before passports were required.
Getting a U.S. passport for the first time can be quite easy and only takes a couple of hours of work and a quick photo of yourself. But you need to know what’s necessary to complete and where to submit your paperwork.
If you need a passport renewal or have a special case like a name change or a lost passport, read the U.S. passport renewal and special cases guide.
In this guide, you will find out how to get a passport for the first time.
Hot Tip: Need your first passport quickly? Click here for an expedited first-time U.S. passport service >>
Passport Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible for a U.S. passport, you must be either a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization or be a qualifying U.S. national.
Depending on which category you fall under, you will have to provide different evidence of your eligibility.
|You’re a U.S. Citizen if One of the Following Apply:
||You’re a Qualifying National if One of the Following Apply:
|You were born in the U.S.
||You were born in American Samoa
|Your parent is a U.S. citizen*
||You were born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island
|You’re a former alien who has been naturalized as a U.S. citizen
|You were born in Puerto Rico
|You were born in Guam
|You were born in the U.S. Virgin Islands
*See details of the Child Citizenship Act
If you are born abroad to parents who are U.S. citizens, your parents must fill out the CRBA form (DS-2029) and submit it to the nearest U.S. embassy in order to secure your citizenship.
This process is extremely important to prevent issues in obtaining citizenship. It is best to simultaneously apply for a passport so there are no issues getting back into the U.S.
The U.S. Passport Application Process
Applying for a U.S. passport is not difficult. To apply for a U.S. passport, you’ll need to complete the following steps:
Step 1: Fill Out the Official Application
The official application for a U.S. passport is the U.S. Department of State form DS-11. It’s quite easy to fill out.
When completing the passport form, make sure you pay close attention to the different fields and do not make handwritten adjustments to the form after printing (with the exception of your signature).
You have a few options to select when applying for a passport document:
|Type of Document
|28-Page Passport Book
||All available countries*
||May not be large enough for frequent travelers
|52-Page Passport Book
||All available countries*
||Extra pages to fit more visa stamps for frequent travelers
||Larger, more cumbersome size
||Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda
||Cheaper, size of a credit card, easy access to these specific countries
||Cannot be used to travel to the rest of the world
*Travel with a passport is restricted by visa requirements of the countries you are traveling to.
The passport book is a little more expensive, but there aren’t any restrictions. However, the card is very convenient when you’re traveling to those select countries.
The passport book comes with either the standard 28 pages or the extended 52 pages. If you plan to be traveling a lot, get the 52-page passport as the price is the same.
For most people, the 28-page passport is plenty, given you’ll likely need to renew before filling it up. However, if you need more pages, the U.S. government will send you a new passport versus adding pages into your current one.
To get a copy of the required application form, you can print it from home or locally. You’re also able to pick up the application where you will submit your application.
If you’re planning to pick up the application and submit it all in 1 trip, make sure you have completed all of the other steps first.
Step 2: Proof of Citizenship or Naturalization
While there are minimum passport requirements stated, sometimes they may ask you for more than 1 piece of information to prove your citizenship.
It’s better to be prepared, so try to bring as much information as you can!
Here is where knowing your eligibility status is important. Different evidence is required for those (1) born in the U.S. (citizens), (2) born outside the U.S. (citizens), (3) born outside the U.S. (naturalized), and (4) born outside the U.S. (adopted).
For U.S. citizens born in the U.S. or U.S. nationals, you simply need to submit a certified birth certificate.
Make sure it is not a copy of your birth certificate. If your certificate was not filed for over a year after your birth, or you do not have one, you must also submit a combination of the following:
- A hospital birth record
- An early baptismal or circumcision certificate
- Early census, school, medical, or family bible records
- Insurance files or published birth announcements (such as a newspaper article)
- Notarized affidavits or DS-10 (birth affidavit) of older blood relatives having knowledge of your birth in addition to some of the above
All of the evidence must be official and signed with all the appropriate information about you.
For U.S. citizens born outside the U.S., you will need to submit the following:
- Your foreign birth certificate listing your parent(s)
- Your parent(s)’ evidence of U.S. citizenship
- Your parents’ marriage certificate, if applicable
- A statement from your U.S. citizen parent(s) detailing all periods and places of their residence or physical presence in the U.S. and abroad (even before your birth)
For those born outside the U.S. and who are naturalized, submit your Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship.
For those born outside the U.S. and who claim citizenship through the naturalization of their parents, you must submit a few things:
- Your foreign birth certificate listing your parent(s)
- Your parent(s)’ naturalization certificate
- Evidence of your permanent residence status. Examples include:
- Permanent Resident Card/Green Card
- Foreign passport with the original I-551 visa entry stamp
- Your parents’ marriage certificate (if your parents were married when you legally entered the U.S. and before your 18th birthday)
- Documentation of legal custody (if your parents were not married when you legally entered the U.S.)
- Evidence of your legitimation (if your parents were not married at the time of your birth). Examples include:
- Your parents’ marriage certificate dated after your birth
- Certified court order of legitimation
For those born outside the U.S. and adopted while under the age of 16, you will need to provide the following document:
- Evidence of your permanent residence status
- Evidence of your full and final adoption
- Evidence that you were in the legal and physical custody of your U.S. citizen parent(s)
- Evidence you have resided in the U.S.
For more information, refer to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
While this already may seem like a lot, make sure to bring any other official documentation that you feel might be relevant, whether you are a U.S. citizen born in the U.S. or abroad.
The U.S. Department of State website has a list of the accepted secondary evidence. Note: Social Security cards are not considered evidence.
Step 3: Submit Identification
The proof of identification is a bit easier and less daunting than the proof of citizenship. The proof of identity simply needs to have a good photo of you with your signature.
It has to be a permanent form of identification (not a temporary card) and has to be an official U.S. government-issued form of identification. Examples include:
- Permanent driver’s license
- Military identification
- Expired passport book/card
- Certificate of naturalization or citizenship
Step 4: Submit Photocopied Evidence
While you will need to have all official documentation with you when you submit your application, you will also need photocopies of each document you submit so there is a copy of your documentation submitted with your application.
Before you submit your application, photocopy all primary and secondary evidence that you are going to bring in. Then you can provide whatever they ask for. Make copies of each piece of evidence separately.
The photocopies must be of the front and back of each piece of evidence, must be on 8.5 x 11-inch white paper, printed in black and white, and must only be on 1 side of paper.
Finally, you must not reduce the size of any of the images copied, but you can enlarge them if you choose.
Step 5: Provide a Picture: Passport Photo Requirements
Perhaps the one thing that is most overlooked is the passport photo. While some facilities provide photo-taking services, it is easiest to do this ahead of time.
Per application requirements, you only need to provide 1 photo. The photo has to be a high-quality color photo of you, taken within the last 6 months, taken in front of a white or off-white background, and be 2 x 2 inches in size.
You will need to wear regular street clothes and not wear any headdress or glasses unless worn for religious reasons and documented as such.
Since more passport photo requirements exist, it is easiest to simply get the photo taken at a facility that provides a passport photo service. Typical places to get these taken include big pharmacies, department stores, government offices, and more. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, follow these guidelines for taking your passport photo at home.
The photos cost anywhere from around $6 to $15 and are in addition to your passport application fee. Bring the photos with you to the application facility, but they don’t have to be attached to the application.
Step 6: Pay the Passport Application Fee
The U.S. passport fees are stated on the U.S. Department of State website.
Please note that these fees are in addition to the cost of the photos and any additional fees in getting the proper evidence together.
|Passport Book + Card
Depending on where you submit your application, you can pay the passport fee with cash, check, or credit card. You can even use money orders.
Make checks or money orders payable to the “U.S. Department of State” and make sure you have the exact amount if you’re wanting to pay with cash.
If you want to get your passport expedited, you can do so for an additional $60 fee. An overnight delivery service can be obtained for $18.32, which will overnight your passport from the date it is approved.
Hot Tip: For more information on expedited passports, visit our Expedited U.S. Passport Application Guide.
Where To Apply for Your Passport
There are quite a number of places that can process passport applications. The U.S. Department of State website has the full list of qualified places. There is likely a passport office somewhere near you.
For your first U.S. passport application, you must apply in person, hence why the above information is so important.
If your application is not urgent, then it is easiest to apply at a general Passport Acceptance Facility. The wizard at that link has the ability to search for places near you, including places that also offer photo services.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) offices also allow you to submit applications. Click the link to search around for the office nearest you.
For those traveling within 2 weeks or who need a foreign visa within 4 weeks, then you’ll need to visit a passport agency. These are unfortunately few and far between and may be nowhere near where you’re located. You’ll also have to time the appointment right as your appointment must be within 3 to 10 days of expected travel.
26 U.S. Passport Agency Locations
If you can’t make it to a passport agency and still need it expedited, or just wish to have someone else help you expedite the process, you can also use a private passport expediter like Swift Passport and Visa Services.
There is a great article explaining how to use a private passport expediter. Please note that using such a service should be done with caution.
Expected Time of Delivery
The length of time it takes to receive your passport depends on whether or not you expedite it, where you submit it, and what the workload is currently at the passport offices.
The standard processing time is approximately 8 to 11 weeks. An expedited order is supposed to arrive within 5 to 7 weeks, but could also take longer.
If you go into a passport agency, the expected turnaround time is 3 days. However, you must have international travel booked within 72 hours of your appointment.
Be sure to check your online passport status from time to time if you don’t need it right away. You’ll look up your application using your last name, date of birth, and the last 4 digits of your Social Security number.
If you’re getting your passport expedited, it is important to know that the online status tool likely won’t work for at least a week.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to further expedite it. As a government process, you can expect it to take a little longer than normal and have minimal customer service. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you apply for your passport well in advance of any upcoming trip!
Hot Tip: The U.S. Department of State’s application wizard is a useful tool to get you through the passport application process. It’s not an official application, but it will help you figure out what you need.
Special Case (Minors, Outside the U.S.) Passport Applications
There are a few special cases for first-time passport applications: minors under the age of 16, minors ages 16 or 17, and people applying from outside the U.S.
Passport Processing for Minors Under 16
If you’re under 16 years of age or submitting an application for a minor under the age of 16, there are additional pieces of evidence that must be submitted with the application. The application must also be done in person.
When submitting the DS-11 application for a minor under the age of 16, you must submit their proof of citizenship along with a parent’s proof of relationship. At least 1 parent must also provide identifying documentation at the acceptance center.
The parental relationship can be documented on the child’s birth certificate, which can double as the proof of citizenship. Photo identification can be covered with the parent’s or the child’s ID (if they have one).
Parental consent must be given to those under the age of 16 and they cannot apply alone. Both parents or guardians are required to be present and give consent, if available. If a parent can’t be present, the other must bring an affidavit granting permission to give the child a passport. If there is only 1 guardian, then proof can be provided by presenting a proper court order or death certificate.
The passport fee for a minor is slightly lower at $100 for a book, $15 for a card, $115 for both, and the standard $35 processing fee. Note that the passport will only be good for 5 years instead of the standard 10.
Hot Tip: For even more information, check out our detailed guide: How to Get a U.S. Passport for Your Baby [Step-By-Step].
Passport Processing Minors Ages 16 and 17
Although still considered a minor, a 16-year-old or 17-year-old child may apply for a passport on their own, as long as they have the appropriate documentation, including their own ID.
The child must present either a completed DS-11 application or renew online with DS-82. If the child does not yet have their own identification, then a parent must be present with ID to identify them. Both parents do not need to be present if the child is 16 or 17 years of age.
It is suggested that at least 1 parent is present in order to show parental awareness. Another way to show parental awareness is to provide a written consent letter for the child that is signed with a copy of the parent’s photo ID.
Standard adult fees apply for a child of age 16 or 17. Passports for applicants 16 and older are valid for 10 years.
Please note that a child may be denied the ability to obtain a passport if one of the parents has submitted a letter stating they object to the child receiving a passport.
Application Process for a U.S. Citizen or U.S. National Located Outside the U.S.
If you are trying to apply for a U.S. passport, and you are located outside of the U.S. and are a U.S. citizen or national, the process is very similar to applying from within the U.S. However, you must apply through the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Similar to the process above, you’ll need to complete the DS-11 application and collect all relevant documentation to bring with you. Passport photos have different requirements depending on which country you are located in, so be sure to follow the U.S. passport photo requirements.
The passport fees are the same, but you must use cash in either U.S. dollars or the local currency that will be converted. You cannot use any other forms of payment.
You cannot apply for an expedited passport from outside the U.S. However if the reason you are applying for a passport is an emergency, the embassy or agency can issue a limited-validity passport to service your emergency.
Post-Passport Duties: Getting Your Visa Lined Up
Congratulations! You’ve got your passport. The next step is to understand how it works, and that enters into the world of visas (not to be confused with the credit card processor of the same name).
Because visas are a complicated world, see our article on the 4 basic types of travel visas.
From filling out the application, providing proof of citizenship, getting a photo, and submitting the application, there are many small steps to getting your passport.
If you’re interested in renewing your passport and other special cases in passports, such as a name change, check out the second part of this article: Passport Renewal and Special Cases Guide.
And congratulations! You’ve completed the first step in getting the maximum value out of your travel rewards cards points. There are some other things to consider before you get going. Here are some helpful links:
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