The Newbie’s Guide to Applying for a US Passport

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge to do a little traveling across the border, you should know that there have been several changes regarding the issuance of U.S. Passports in recent months which will affect your travel plans.

All U.S. citizens are now required to have a Passport card in order to cross the borders to Canada or Mexico. To travel anywhere else outside the U.S., you will need a standard Passport.

When should I apply for a Passport?

My advice is to go ahead and apply for your passport if you have a reasonably good idea that you will be traveling internationally in the coming months. You can never predict a delay of some sort happening, so don’t chance missing your flight by putting this off.

How long will it take to receive my Passport?

The standard processing time is between 4-6 weeks. If you will need your passport in less than two weeks, you will need to schedule an appointment with your local passport acceptance facility. If you plan during peak travel seasons like the summer, be sure to apply within ten weeks of travel. Please note that in the rush to beat the July 13, 2010 price increase, that there has been a large number of renewals that has extended the processing time to a solid six weeks. It will probably take that long for the foreseeable future, so plan accordingly.

What if I need my Passport sooner than that?

There is an additional $60.00 fee plus overnight delivery costs per application for expedited applications. If you choose to mail in your request be sure to clearly mark the overnight package “Expedite” and be sure to enclose the aforementioned proof of citizenship documents in the package; they will be returned to you.

Where can I get a passport and how much does it cost?

All first time applicants (and all minors, no exceptions) must apply in person at a Passport Agency, Acceptance Facility, U.S. Embassy or Consulate to fill out Form DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport. The U. S. Department of State has made it easier to apply for a Passport online by using this wizard that will help you to determine the correct form that you will need to fill out, how much you will have to pay and will allow you to complete and print out the completed application to take with you to the aforementioned agencies. Be sure to leave the signature portion blank and do not sign the document until you are instructed by an agent to do so.

As a general rule, passport fees (which take into account price increases beginning July 13, 2010) are as follows:

• New Passport (first time applicants)

$110.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee

• New Passports for children under age 16 (yes, even newborns must have one!)

$80.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee

• Passport renewal

$110.00 (it’s not necessary to visit Acceptance facility; you can renew via mail)

• New Passport cards (first time applicants)


• Passport cards renewal


• New Passport cards for children under age 16


• Passport cards for children under age 16 (renewals)


• Extra passport pages

$82.00 (previously, they were free)

What items will I need to bring with me when I apply for my Passport?

In order to apply for a passport, you will need to submit one of the following items to prove U.S. citizenship:

* Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport

* Certified birth certificate (with registrar’s raised, embossed seal) issued by the city, county or state.

* Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth

* Naturalized Certificate

* Certificate of Citizenship

* Additionally, you will need two 2″ x 2″ color photos (that you can buy from Walgreen’s for 8.00) where one will be affixed to your passport and the other will be kept on file at the agency.

What is an e-Passport?

According to the State Department, the U.S. Electronic Passport (e-passport) is the same as a regular passport with the addition of a small contact-less integrated circuit (computer chip) embedded in the back cover. The chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport, and additionally includes a digital photograph.

The inclusion of the digital photograph enables biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology, at international borders. The U.S. e-passport also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features.

Since August 2007, the U.S. has been issuing only e-passports. Passports without chips will still be valid for the full extent of their validity period.

When do Passports expire?

The Passport for children under the age of 16 years old expires after 5 years. The passport for adults expires after 10 years. Please note that many countries require that you have at least six months to go on your passport before you can enter their country. In fact, some tour companies won’t even book you nor will some airlines allow you to board if you have less than six months left on your Passport. It’s advisable that you renew your Passport when there is about nine months left on it to avoid any six month deadline conflicts.

How will I know if a visa will be required where I’m going?

While U.S. citizens do not need a U.S. visa to travel, you may need a visa to travel to the country that you plan to visit. The Department of State has a list of every country that requires a visa. Use this searchable database to determine whether or not your destination will require one. You will also be able to find out any travel advisories, crime stats/penalties, traffic info, medical facilities, etc. relating to that country by visiting that website. Additionally, visas will not be issued if there is less than six months left on your Passport.

Remember when you are traveling that your Passport is your proof of U.S. citizenship, so take care not to lose it. Your friendly TSA agent and most assuredly, Immigration, will want to review it as you enter their country. Most travelers tend to store their Passports in their hotel safe and carry photocopies of the Passport on their person. Or you may want to scan it and email it to yourself. Happy Travels!

Renee King


Sample the world at a fraction of the price!