How to Obtain Your First Passport

According to the U.S. State Department, all U.S. citizens traveling internationally by air or land must have a passport. The laws for traveling by sea are slightly less strict (allowing for some minimal travel to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico); however, other destinations or overnight visits will require a passport as well. While the process of obtaining a passport may seem overwhelming at first, if it is broken down into simple steps, it is actually not quite as daunting as you may think. The following guide attempts to make the process easier for a first-time passport holder:


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    Gather Necessary Documentation. Before you take any further steps, it is vital that you already have access to all the documents required for obtaining a passport. You will need proof of U.S. citizenship and proof of Identification. Proof of citizenship could include a birth certificate, nationalization certificate or proof of U.S. birth abroad. Proof of identification will typically require a driver’s license, birth certificate, state ID card, military ID card or other such government-issued photo identification.
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    Obtain a Passport Photo. A passport photo isn’t just an average photograph. It has very particular dimensions and requirements. To make sure you meet the right guidelines, you may want to visit a photo establishment that specializes in these pictures—they are often found in drugstores and photo labs.
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    Fill Out the Appropriate Form. In most cases, the form you will fill out to obtain your passport is the DS-11. This form is available online at the U.S Department of State or you can obtain it from a local passport office—or sometimes at your post office. No matter where you obtain it, make sure you fill it out clearly, neatly and in ink. This will assure that your request for a passport is handled expeditiously.
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    Find Your Local Passport Acceptance Office. The State Department offers an easy way for you to search for the closest passport office near you. Additionally, you can call 1-877-487-2778 to find out more information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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    Submit Your Form and Documentation. While adult renewals can be handled by mail, those who are obtaining their first passport (and young people who are renewing) will need to turn in their forms and all required proof in-person at a local passport office. The process may take a few minutes, especially if there is a line. Make sure you allow enough time for this in your schedule.
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    Prepare Payment for the Passport Fee. Passports are not free. In fact, the fee can vary depending on whether you want the traditional passport book ($110), or the newer passport card ($30, but has limited use). This can be paid in cash, by credit or debit card and in some cases by personal check. If you are concerned, you may wish to call the office ahead of time to make sure they can accept your payment.
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    Wait. The time necessary to obtain a passport can be significant. It makes sense to do this ahead of time if you are concerned. It is possible to put a “rush order” on a passport; however, this will be an additional cost and could still take up to two weeks to arrive.


  • These guidelines were geared towards those who have never held a passport. Renewing an old passport may be an easier process. The most important thing to do, whether you are renewing or obtaining a new passport, is to make sure you are staying up to date with the latest information—as the steps involved are constantly changing. The U.S. State Department is the governmental agency in charge of issuing these documents and is an excellent resource for up-to-the-minute information about all aspects of international travel—allowing you to relax and enjoy the trip!
  • If you are missing any of the proof of identity documentation mentioned in Step 1, these sites will help you replace or attain them: for driver’s license, or for birth certificate, for state ID card, and for military ID card.

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Categories: Official Travel Documentation