LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | Jun 10, 2016

How to get a US passport

The initial application process takes only a few minutes and can usually be completed online. The first thing you must do is make sure you are eligible. The primary requirement is that you are a US citizen. If you are a permanent resident in the US, you will use a passport from your homeland.

Required documents

To acquire a US passport, you need a few important documents.

Proof of citizenship

Usually, a certified copy of your birth certificate is sufficient proof of citizenship. If you don't have an official copy of your birth certificate, you'll need to contact the Department of Vital Records in the state where you were born. Do you have an old US passport? This could serve as proof of citizenship instead of your birth certificate.

If you were not born in the US, but you became a citizen later in life, you will need to present a Certificate of Citizenship or a Naturalization Certificate.

Proof of identity

To prove you are who you say you are, you may use an old, undamaged passport or a state-issued ID card, such as a driver's license. A government employee ID or a military ID card will also be accepted.

Passport photo

An acceptable passport photo must meet strict requirements:

  • The photo must be in color and printed on matte or glossy high-quality photo paper.
  • It must measure 2 inches by 2 inches.
  • Your head in the photo should be between 1 inch and 1 and 3/8 inches in length.
  • It must have been taken within the last 6 months.
  • The background must be plain white or off-white.
  • Both of your eyes must be open, and you should have a neutral expression or a natural smile on your face.

Most applicants get their passport photos take at their local drugstore. At some places that accept passport applications, the person who processes the application can take a photo for you. This may cost extra, but it is a convenient option, and it ensures that your photo will meet the requirements.

Passport application form

The standard passport application form is known as DS-11. The form asks questions related to your physical appearance, your social security number, and your place of birth, among other things. Note that you should not sign the form until you are instructed to do so by the person who is processing the application. Have photocopies of your identification documents ready when you go in to apply.

Paying the passport fee

There is a passport application fee. The fee can vary, but it is typically $135, and it includes an application fee and an execution fee.

If you are simply renewing your passport instead of applying for the first time, you can expect to pay a fee of only $110.

The acceptable payment methods also vary. For example, credit and debit cards are not accepted at some facilities, but they are accepted at official passport agencies.

Where to apply for a US passport

There are 3 main passport application methods:

  • The Department of State Passport Agency
  • A Passport Acceptance Facility, like a local post office

The 2 above mentioned application methods are for people who live in the United States or Canada. If you live outside the US or Canada, you will follow a different process, which is outlined here. You'll likely have to get in touch with the local US Embassy or Consulate.

Usually, you must apply for a passport in person. 1 exception to this is if you are renewing an old, eligible adult passport. In this case, you may apply through the mail. Note that if you had a passport as a child — when you were younger than 16 — you cannot renew that passport through the mail.

Note that some facilities require applicants to schedule a passport appointment ahead of time.

How long does it take to get a US passport?

If you apply for your passport at a passport agency, expect to wait for 2 to 4 weeks to receive your passport. In order to get the most expedited service, you'll need to present proof of your planned international travel.

When you apply for the passport at a Passport Acceptance Facility, you'll have to wait between 3 and 6 weeks to get it. If you want it to be closer to the 3-week mark, you'll have to pay an extra fee of $60.

After you apply for a passport, you can check your application's status here.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?


Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer