If you've decided to take the plunge and go on an international trip, hopefully you've realized you'll need a valid passport. If you already have a passport, now is the time to make sure it isn't expired or even too close to expiring (some countries and airlines won't let you travel unless your passport is valid for 6 months beyond the end date of your trip). If you've never had a passport, then it's time to apply for one. Below is all the crucial info you need to know, and while this is tailored to getting a passport for the United States, the process is similar in most countries.
- Visit the U.S. Department of State website at www.travel.state.gov and in the search bar type "first time passport applicant". Follow the first link entitled "First Time Applicants" to a step by step guide to getting a passport for the first time. Here's the simplified version:
- Fill out a form called the DS-11. You can print it out and complete it, or complete it online and then print it out. Either way, you can't submit it online. You're going to have to print this sucker.
- Find one primary evidence of U.S. citizenship document (it can't be a photocopy or a notarized copy). The "First Time Applicants" page has the list of acceptable documents such your birth certificate or naturalization certificate.
- Find one primary photo identification item or a combination of secondary photo identification items. Once again, lists of what qualifies for both these categories are provided.
- Now make copies of the front and back of the photo identification items. You'll still need to take in the actual items (for example your drivers license) to the passport agency, but they'll want the copies from you to send in with your application. They will send your original primary evidence of U.S. citizenship document with your application but it will be returned to you with your new passport. Kind of scary I know, but they haven't lost any of my documents yet.
- Get a passport photo. Some places where you submit your passport application will take passport photos for an additional fee. If you don't want to do that then there are many places that can take a passport photo for you, like Walmart. Where ever you go, just make sure to tell them you are having a passport photo taken so that they follow the correct guidelines (2x2 photo with white background and so forth).
- Now that you have all your documents and forms ready, head to your nearest Passport Application Acceptance Facility of Passport Agency. The "First Time Applicants" page has a nifty feature that lets you put in your zip code to find out where your nearest facility/agency is. When you renew your passport you will not have to do this in person. In person visits are only required for your first time around.
- Now you have to pay the passport fee. For a first time adult passport the total cost is $135 (this is the cost at the time this article was written - fees are liable to change) and can be paid by any method at a passport agency. However, some Passport Application Acceptance Facilities on the us.state.gov website state that credit and debit cards cannot be accepted. Your best bet is to call wherever you are going to go ahead of time, and verify that the payment method you want to use will be accepted!
- According to the travel.state.gov website the processing time for a passport is 4-6 weeks. If you want to be safe in case there are delays, then I'd apply for that passport at least 2 months before your trip. You can pay an extra $60 fee to expedite your passport which supposedly decreases the time to 3 weeks door to door. I haven't tried this or talked to anyone else who has, so I can't speak as to whether this is a guarantee or not.
- How long will your passport last? If you are 15 or younger than it will be valid for 5 years. If you are 16 or older then it will be valid for 10 years, so you had better hope you look good in your picture!
And that's the down and dirty of getting a passport. If you have more detailed questions leave a comment or send us a message. And as always, happy traveling!