Foreign lands might be calling your name, but you won’t get there without a passport. The high-tech blue book issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs gets you in and out of 147 countries around the world. While it does take a little bit of planning and waiting, it isn’t hard to get one if you know the process. If you are at least 16 years old and first-time applicant for your passport, here’s how to get started.
Step 1 – Find Your Proof of Citizenship
The Bureau of Consular Affairs accepts three primary documents to prove your citizenship. If you were born in the United States, you need your birth certificate. If you are a U.S. citizen born abroad, you need your Consular Report of Birth Abroad. If you are a naturalized citizen, you need your Certificate of Naturalization.
You must have an original of the document that fits your situation.
In addition to the original, you will also need a photocopy of your proof of citizenship. Photocopies must be:
- On white 8.5 by 11-inch standard paper
- Black and white
If you can’t get any of these documents, don’t worry! You have options to provide documents from the secondary citizenship evidence documents list.
Step 2 –Complete Your DS-11 Form
While only two pages long, take your time filling out the DS-11 form to avoid possible delays. If errors are found, your form will be returned and you’ll have to start over. You can fill the form out online and then print it, print a form off and write on it, or pick up a form from the post office.
Do not sign the form until instructed to do so when you drop off your application.
Step 3 – Get your Passport Photo Taken
Passport photos that do not meet requirements are the No. 1 reason passport applications are held up. Many national drug stores and post offices will take your passport photo and print copies out for a small price. This is the easiest way to make sure your photo is compliant with the photo requirements.
If you want to take your own photo, be sure to meet all of the requirements to prevent a delay. You can also follow @PerfectPassport on Twitter and search their #PicturePerfectPassport series for tips and tricks.
Keep a few additional copies of your photo in case you need one for a visa or other travel documents.
Step 4 – Bring a Valid, Primary Photo ID
In addition to your proof of citizenship, you will need to bring a photo ID with you when dropping off your application. Acceptable forms of ID include:
- Valid driver’s license
- Current government ID
- Current military ID
Just like with your proof of citizenship, you will need a photocopy of the front and back of your photo ID. Be sure the photocopy meets all requirements.
Step 5 – Prepare Your Payment
Fees can be paid only by check or money order. You will need two separate checks or money orders: one payable to U.S. Department of State for the application fee of $110; and one payable to the acceptance facility for the execution fee of $25. The post office or other acceptance facility charges an execution fee for taking your application and submitting it for you.
Ready to Submit!
After you have gathered all of your documentation and filled out your DS-11 form, it is time to submit everything. First-time applicants must submit completed applications and all needed documents to a passport acceptance facility in person. Use the Bureau of Consular Affairs search tool to find your closest acceptance facility.
Routine processing time is six to eight weeks. For an additional $60, you can expedite your application and get your passport in two to three weeks. To get your passport even faster – say, in case of death in the family or other emergency – you must go to a passport agency and provide additional documentation.
Additional Tips and Resources
- Mail your original proof of citizenship with your application. It will be mailed back to you. Secondary citizenship documents will not be returned if you use those.
- Check the status of your application online.
- Check to see if you need a visa, additional immunizations or additional medical information for the country you are visiting.
- Follow rules for minors. If you are applying for a passport for a child younger than 16 years old, see these additional requirements.
Handy chart outlining steps (PDF)