How to Apply for a US Passport

Immigrants Become American Citizens in Naturalization Ceremony At Liberty State Park
Immigrants Become American Citizens in Naturalization Ceremony At Liberty State Park. John Moore / Getty Images

Applying for a US passport can be simple or it can be ​a crash course in bureaucracy. You want simple. Best advice? Learn the rules, assemble everything you need before you apply for your US passport and apply at least 6 weeks before your trip.

US Passport - Do You Need One?

All US citizens traveling anywhere outside the United States will need a passport. All children regardless of age, including newborns and infants, must have their own passport.

There are special requirements for all minors ages 16 & 17. A U.S Passport is not required for direct travel within the 50 States (including Hawaii, Alaska, and District of Columbia) and U.S Territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island). However, if you are traveling to a U.S. State or Territory through another country (for example, traveling through Canada to go to Alaska, or, traveling through Japan to go to Guam), a passport may be required.

Also be sure to read the following information on requirements for travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean.

Important: Travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean

Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) of 2009, most U.S. Citizens returning to the United States from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean at sea or land ports of entry must have a passport, passport card, Enhanced Driver’s License, Trusted Traveler Program card or other travel document approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

It is advised that you refer to the U.S. State Department's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative information website when planning travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean.

US Passport - Applying in Person

You must apply for a US passport in person if:

  • You are applying for your first U.S. passport or
  • You are under age 16 or
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16 or
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged or
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago or
  • Your name has changed since your US passport was issued and you are unable to legally document your name change

Also note that there are special rules for all minors under age 16 and all minors age 16 and 17.

Proof of US Citizenship Required

When applying for a U.S. passport in person, you will need to provide proof of US citizenship. The following documents will be accepted as proof of US citizenship:

If you do not have primary evidence of U.S. citizenship or your birth certificate does not meet the requirements, you can submit an acceptable form of Secondary Evidence of US Citizenship.

NOTE: Effective April 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of State began requiring the full names of the applicant's parent(s) to be listed on all certified birth certificates to be considered as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship for all passport applicants, regardless of age.

Certified birth certificates missing this information are no longer acceptable as evidence of citizenship. This did not affect applications already in-process that had been submitted or accepted before April 1, 2011. See: 22 CFR 51.42(a)

US Passport Application Form

You will also need to fill out, but not sign, Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport. This form must be signed in the presence of the Passport Agent. The DS-11 form may also be filled out online.

US Passport Photographs

You will need to provide two (2) identical, passport-quality photographs with you application for a US passport.

Your US Passport Photographs Must Be:

  • Identical and in color
  • 2 x 2 inches in size
  • Taken within the past 6 months, showing current appearance
  • Full face, front view with a plain white or off-white background
  • Between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
  • Taken in normal street attire
  • Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily
  • Do not wear a hat or headgear that obscures the hair or hairline
  • If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device, wig or similar articles, they should be worn for your picture
  • Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required)
  • Vending machine photos are not generally acceptable

Proof of Identification Required

When you apply for a US passport in person, you will need to present at least one acceptable form of identification, including:

  • Previously issued, undamaged US passport
  • Valid Driver's License
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Current government ID (city, state or federal)
  • Current Military ID (military and dependents)

Where to Apply in Person for a US Passport: You can apply in person for a US passport at any Passport Acceptance Facility (usually a Post Office).

Processing Fees for a US Passport

When you apply for a US passport, you will need to pay the current US passport processing fee. You can also request expedited US passport processing for an additional $60.00 fee.

Need Your US Passport Fast? 

If you need expedited processing of your application for a US passport, the State Department strongly suggests you schedule an appointment.

How Long Will it Take?

Current processing times for US passport applications can be found on the State Department's Applications Processing Times web page.

Once you have applied for a US passport, you can check the status of your application online.

US Passport - Renew by Mail

You can apply to renew your US passport by mail if your current US passport:

  • is undamaged and can be submitted with your application
  • Was issued when you were age 16 or older
  • Was issued within the last 15 years
  • Was issued in your current name or you can legally document your name change

If all of the above are true, you can renew your US passport by mail. Otherwise, you must apply in person.

Requirements for Passport Applicants with Puerto Rican Birth Certificates

As of October 30, 2010, the Department of State no longer accepts Puerto Rican birth certificates issued prior to July 1, 2010, as primary proof of U.S. citizenship for a U.S. passport book or passport card. Only Puerto Rican birth certificates issued on or after July 1, 2010, will be accepted as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship. The requirement does not affect Puerto Ricans who already hold a valid U.S. passport.

The Government of Puerto Rico recently passed a law invalidating all Puerto Rican birth certificates issued prior to July 1, 2010, and replacing them with enhanced security birth certificates with features to combat passport fraud and identity theft.

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Longley, Robert. "How to Apply for a US Passport." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-apply-for-us-passport-3321130. Longley, Robert. (2017, March 3). How to Apply for a US Passport. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-apply-for-us-passport-3321130 Longley, Robert. "How to Apply for a US Passport." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-apply-for-us-passport-3321130 (accessed November 20, 2017).