Did you know in 2019, approximately 20.6 million U.S. passports were issued and over 146 million U.S. passports were in circulation? More people are traveling internationally than ever before but with 328.2 million people in the U.S. population, only about 45% of Americans have a passport.
I was shocked by this statistic as I’m one of the millions who has held a passport for years, literally. I’ve had a passport since the age of 1 and according to my parents took my first international trip at 1 year and 4 months of age.
In my bio, I’ve talked about how I grew up traveling and since it’s pretty much been a way of life, I really can’t imagine not having a passport or the ability to travel abroad. Having a passport is my gateway to the world – and it can be yours, too!
How To Get A U.S. Passport
If you don’t have a passport, chances are, getting a U.S. passport is actually much easier than you probably think. I’m sharing easy step by step instructions below so don’t let the application process put a damper on your travel dreams.
When my husband and I first started dating he had never been out of the country and never had a passport. At the time, we had a friend planning a destination beach wedding so he needed to get a passport and went through these same steps so we could attend our friend’s wedding and take our first international trip together.
Who Needs a Passport?
Anyone who plans to travel abroad needs a passport, including kids. Passports for kids up to the age of 16 are valid for 5 years. Age 16 and older, passports are valid for 10 years.
What Do You Need To Apply?
There are only a handful of things you need to complete your passport application. I’ll go through these in more depth below but in general, you need to complete the DS-11 Form, have proof of citizenship, photo ID such as your driver’s license, 2 passport photos and payment for fees.
For those under the age of 16, applying for a passport will require a birth certificate or other forms showing parental relationship. All forms submitted must be original or certified copies and not photocopies.
You can also find the information listed on the U.S. State Department website. Note: Instructions will be slightly different if you are renewing a passport as my instructions are for first-time passport applicants.
How to Apply For a U.S. Passport
Step 1: Complete Your Application For a U.S. Passport (DS-11 Form)
Download and print the DS-11 Form from the State Department website and apply in person at a passport acceptance facility.
Don’t worry, even though you have to apply in person for the first time (and you can renew by mail in the future), this doesn’t mean you have to make a long trek.
Usually, you can apply at your local post office but be sure to visit the State Department site to find the passport acceptance facility closest to you.
Step 2: Gather Required Documentation
You’ll need to provide two different types of ID, both proof of citizenship and identification when you apply for a passport the first time.
To prove your citizenship using a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, or certificate of citizenship is needed to meet this requirement. You must also bring BOTH the original document AND a photocopy when you go to apply.
To prove your identity, you’ll need to bring documents such as a valid driver’s license, government employee ID, or a US military ID. Again, you’ll need to bring both the original document and a photocopy of the document when applying.
Step 3: Get Photos
Much like your driver’s license photo, you’ll need a professional photo for your passport. Passport photos are required to be a specific size and on a plain background but don’t worry, you can easily have them taken at a local drugstore like Walgreens or CVS. Your local post office may do photos as well. The cost is usually around $15.00.
Can you take your own photo? Technically, yes. Online apps such as Passport Photo Booth (Android version here) make it easy to snap a photo from your smartphone. The app offers free electronic delivery of your photos to print at home or at any photo printing facility. You can also opt for the delivery of printed photos for $5.96.
Step 4: Pay The Fees
Ok so there’s a little bit of a cost involved with getting a passport but it’s really nominal, especially when you consider your passport will be valid for 10 years. You’ll get a decade of travel freedom in exchange.
When it comes to getting a passport, you have three options:
Passport Book – The is the “normal” passport with the shiny blue cover and pages to be filled with stamps from the countries you visit. The total cost is $145.00. ($110.00 application fee + $35.00 execution fee)
Passport Card – This card has some restrictions as it can only be used for land and seaport entry to Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean and Bermuda. If you plan to travel by cruise to these countries only, this is a great option and comes at a reduced cost. The total cost is $65.00 ($30.00 application fee + $35.00 execution fee).
Passport Book + Passport Card – The last option is to apply for both the Passport Book and the Passport Card. The cost is $175.00 ($110.00 book application fee + $30.00 card application fee + $35.00 execution fee). If you opt for both, you only have to pay the execution fee once.
It’s VERY important to note that checks (personal, certified, cashier’s, traveler’s) and money orders are accepted as payment and must be made out to “U.S. Department of State”. Credit and debit cards are NOT accepted.
Additionally, you must pay the execution fee separately. Checks or Money Orders are preferred and should be made payable as instructed by the facility. Cash (exact change only) and credit cards are accepted at some locations.
I should note for those applying for a passport for the first time and are under 16, the cost is slightly less with a reduced application fee since the passport is good for only 5 years.
Personally, I’ve never messed with the card and have only ever held a Passport book but the passport card is a good option for those who don’t plan to travel extensively and want to save a little money.
Step 5: Get Your Passport
As noted in step one, you’ll need to take the application and all of your documentation to a passport acceptance facility to apply in person.
Once you submit your application and submit all your documents, you can expect to receive your passport in about 4-6 weeks. Your new passport will be mailed to your home address.
Once it arrives, you’ll be ready to pack your bags and head off on your first international adventure. And just in case you need your passport sooner, you can always explore the expedited options but they do come at a premium.
Once you have your passport, you can stop dreaming and start planning your first trip abroad with my 9 simple steps and my free travel budget worksheet.
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