It’s time to book a trip for all those vacation days you’ve saved. You have visions of African safaris, Buddhist temples and European towns paved in cobblestones running through your head. There’s only one problem — other than picking between them, of course — you don’t know how to get a passport, and you’re going to need one.
Before a little paper books takes away too many of your travel opportunities, let us break down everything you need to know about how to get a passport. In a couple minutes you’ll know everything you need to in order to get it taken care of in time to book your tickets. We can’t do anything about the chaos of air travel or the temperatures once you’re there, but we can make sure it’s smooth sailing until you’re through security.
How to get a passport: Where to start
Since getting a passport is a process with multiple steps, we’ll break them down here for you into sections. If along the way it starts to seem like a hassle to get a passport, keep that sunny summer vacation destination in mind and push through.
Gather what you need
You should know upfront that since this is your first passport, you’ll need to apply in person. Get a head start on your visit by printing and filling out document DS-11. You can complete the form online here, or print it out with this PDF version. You’ll also need to apply in person if any of these things apply to you:
You’re younger than 16 years old
Your old passport was issued when you were younger than 16
Your old passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
Your old passport was issued more than 15 years ago
Make sure you also have proof of your U.S. citizenship, which could be your birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization or citizenship. You can check that your birth certificate meets the State Department’s requirements by checking it against the list of requites here. You’ll need the original of your birth certificate as well as a photocopy (back and front of the document), so double check you have both.
You’ll need to have a form of ID with you. The easiest option is to present your valid state driver’s license, but you can also present a combination of “secondary IDs,” such as a student or employee ID and voter registration card. You can find a full list of primary and secondary IDs here to verify that you have everything you need. You’ll also need a photocopy of the back and front of your primary ID or of each of your secondary IDs.
NOTE: There are additional requirements if you have undergone a gender transition, and they can be found on the same page as the primary and secondary IDs list.
Get your photos ready
No, they don’t generally do this at the office when you’re getting your passport, although special locations offer it for an additional fee. Though it might be the most tedious step in how to get a passport, it’s essential. There are various places that will take these photos for you, including drug stores with photo departments such as CVS and Walgreens or private shipping companies such as FedEx or FedEx Kinkos locations.
Before you get your photo snapped, however, make sure they’re up-to-date on the State Department’s photo requirements, which can change year to year. You cannot, for example, wear glasses in your photo unless you can provide a doctor’s note saying you cannot remove them and some places will tell you that your hair, if it’s long enough, needs to be tucked behind your ears. If your photos fail to meet these requirements, your passport application can be rejecting, costing you application fees and valuable vacation time.
You’ll only need one photo for your application, but most places where you get them taken will provide you with several — just in case.
Applying in person
It’s the final step in how to get a passport: You’ll need to use the location finder tool here, provided by the State Department, to find a place near you where you can apply in person.
Some acceptance facilities, where you apply for a passport in person, require you to make an appointment. Find the location nearest you and call ahead to make sure that if you show up without one, you’ll actually be able to submit your paperwork.
How much does it cost to get a passport?
The final thing you’ll need when you show up to submit your application in person is the fees associated with your passport. So how much does it cost to get a passport? That depends on whether you’re getting a passport book, card, or both. A passport card, if you’ve never seen or heard of one, looks very much like a drivers license, but is stamped with the phrase “Passport Card” at the top and cannot be used for air travel.
The passport book, what you see most people carrying around at the airport, will cost you $145 total between the $110 application fee and the $35 acceptance fee if you’re 16 or older. For applicants younger than 16, that fee drops to $115 total.
How long does it take to get a passport?
Not including the time it takes you to pull everything together and get yourself to an acceptance facility, your passport will take 4 to 6 weeks to be processed. But you’ll need to factor in a couple extra days because your passport will be mailed to you. Your passport will be sent to you using Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation, unless you pay for Priority Express return service when you’re applying.