Following is a summary of the passport application process compiled from information provided by the U.S. State Department. You can find checklists of all the materials necessary for each type of application and download the appropriate forms in Passport Applications and Forms.
When Do I Not Need a Passport?
In the past, passports were not required for travel to countries like Canada, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. However, in January 2007, the U.S. State Department began requiring passports for all air travel to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. This is known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).
As of June 1, 2009, a passport (or a WHTI-compliant alternative) is required for most land or sea travel to these destinations as well. However, there are a few exceptions:
-U.S. citizens on cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S. will only need to display proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID.
-Children 16 and under will still be able to travel to these destinations by land or sea by presenting proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).
-Groups of children under age 19, when traveling under adult supervision with a religious or school group, sports team, or social organization, may present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
Note: In all of the above cases, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol tells us that copies of birth certificates are acceptable if you are unable to bring your original. Also, for adult cruise passengers, if the name on your birth certificate doesn't match the one on your driver's license (for example, if the former has your maiden name and the latter your married name), it's a good idea to bring along documentation of your name change -- such as a marriage certificate.
For more information, see GetYouHome.gov.
The State Department has developed a cheaper alternative to the traditional passport called the passport card, which started production in July 2008. This card is not valid for any international air travel, but may be used instead of a passport for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The wallet-sized card contains an identification chip that can be read by a scanner up to 20 feet away, and costs $55 for adults and $40 for children. Adults who already have a traditional passport pay only $30 for the passport card.
Visit the Passport Center
First-Time Passport Applications
If you are applying for your first U.S. passport, you must apply in person at either a regional passport agency or at one of the thousands of facilities around the country that accept passport applications (such as courthouses and post offices). To find the nearest passport agency or facility, use this search tool from the U.S. State Department.
When you apply, you will need to provide the following documents:
-Proof of United States citizenship or nationality such as a certified copy of a birth certificate (one issued from a government office, not a hospital) for applicants born in the U.S., a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or an expired U.S. passport.
-Proof of identity (photo ID with signature) such as a previous U.S. passport, a Naturalization Certificate, a valid driver's license, or a valid government or military identification card. You'll also need to supply an 8 1/2 x 11 inch photocopy of this document (both front and back).
-One passport photo taken within the last six months. The photographs must be 2x2 inches with your head sized between 1 and 1 3/8 inches. Photographs must be a front view, full face, taken in normal street attire without a hat or dark glasses, with a plain white background.
-A completed passport application form DS-11 containing all the requested information except your signature. This form must be signed in the presence of an authorized executing official.
Applicants who have had a previous U.S. passport issued within the past 15 years, and who were 16 or older when the passport was issued, may be eligible to apply for a new passport by mail provided that they can submit their previous passport and that either their name has not changed or they can legally document a name change. If these statements do not apply to you, you must follow the procedure for first-time passport applications (above). Documents required for passport renewals include:
-One passport photo (see photo requirements above)
-A completed passport application form DS-82 that contains all the requested information and is signed and dated
If your name has changed due to marriage, divorce, adoption or court order, you must also include a certified copy of the document detailing your name change.
Mail the completed application, attachments and payment in a padded envelope to the address on the application form. Note that there may be a different address if you've chosen expedited service.
Your previous passport will be returned to you with your new passport. (Please note that the two documents may be sent in separate mailings.)
Passport fees for an initial 10-year passport are $135 if you are 16 years of age or over, and $105 for a five-year passport if under 16. (Note that the total price of a passport is composed of two different fees -- an application fee and an execution fee -- so you may need to write out two different checks when applying in person.) Passport renewal fees are $110. Some facilities are beginning to accept payment via credit and debit cards; call ahead to be sure.
Time to Apply
The State Department frequently updates its Web site with its current passport processing times; under normal circumstances, expect your passport to be processed within four to six weeks.
However, the application processing time varies with passport agencies' workloads. We recommend applying at least two months before any scheduled international travel. The spring and summer months are the busiest, so the application process may take even longer.
Ordinary expedited service through the State Department takes about two to three weeks. If you are leaving the country in less than 15 work days, enclose a $60 expediting fee (in addition to a two-way overnight mail fee and the passport application or renewal fee) and clearly mark the envelope "EXPEDITE." Note that passport applications are processed according to the departure date indicated on your application form. If you give no departure date, the passport agency will assume you have no immediate travel plans.
If you are leaving on an emergency trip and need a passport immediately, call the National Passport Information Center (877-487-2778) to schedule an appointment at the nearest passport agency.
If you're in a hurry and you don't live near one of the passport agencies, you may also want to consider working with a passport and visa expeditor.
Obtaining Additional Visa Pages
If you require additional visa pages before your passport expires, fill out form DS-4085 and submit it with your passport to the address on the application form. Once free, this service now costs $82.
If you travel frequently and tend to run out of visa pages, you can request a 52-page passport book (instead of the standard 28-page document) when you fill out your renewal application.
Changing Your Name
If your name has been changed due to marriage or a court order a year or less after your passport was issued, your passport may be updated at no charge. You will need to submit a completed formDS-5504, a certified copy of the document specifying your name change, one new passport photo and your current valid passport to the address on the application form.
If your name was changed for any other reason or if you've had your passport more than a year, you'll need to use the same application and pay the same fees as you would for a normal passport renewal (see above).
When traveling abroad, carry your passport with you at all times in a safe place. It is a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport with you and keep it in a separate safe place along with copies of your credit cards, traveler's checks and plane tickets. If your passport is lost or stolen, U.S. embassies will usually accept this as proof that you're a U.S. citizen and can quickly issue you a temporary passport.
It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport with someone at home in case of emergency, and e-mail an electronic copy of it to yourself so you can access it from anywhere in the world.
All government passport agencies have limited 24-hour recordings which include basic information about their location and hours of operation as well as advice on emergency passport services during non-working hours. Most agencies now require appointments to service passport applications, so be sure to call before visiting your local office. Click here to find the closest passport acceptance facility to you.
You can call the National Passport Information Center at 877-4USA-PPT (877-487-2778). \