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U.S. Passport

Find out how and where you can apply for a U.S. passport.

Processing time for a new passport  can take approximately four weeks, but expedited service is available for a fee. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Processing time for a new passport can take approximately four weeks, but expedited service is available for a fee.

The U.S. passport is an internationally recognized travel document that identifies the bearer as a citizen of the United States. A valid passport is required for travel to most countries outside of the United States. The U.S. Department of State is the governmental body that issues and verifies U.S. passports. According to the U.S. Department of State, 18,382,798 U.S. passports were issued during fiscal year 2007. Take a look below for some useful information that can make getting a U.S. passport a little easier.

Where to Apply for a U.S. Passport

U.S. citizens must apply in person if they are getting their first passport; if their previous passport is expired and was issued more than 15 years ago; if their previous passport was lost, stolen or damaged; if their previous passport was issued when they were under age 16; or if they have had a name change and do not have a legal document that formally changes the name. Fortunately, there are more than 9,000 passport acceptance facilities where applications can be taken in person, including many post offices, public libraries, clerks of court and other government offices. To find a passport acceptance facility, go to the U.S. Department of State Web site passport acceptance facility search page.

U.S. Passport Requirements

There are several requirements for application for a U.S. passport. First, the application for passport, form DS-11, must be completed. Forms can be obtained at any passport acceptance facility or on the U.S. State Department Web site. The application should not be signed until it is presented at the passport acceptance facility.

Proof of U.S. citizenship must be established to apply for a U.S. passport. Applicants can prove U.S. citizenship with either an existing passport or a certified birth certificate. To be certified, the birth certificate must include the raised seal and signature of the registrar, and must have been issued within one year of birth. In the case of people born in foreign countries to at least one American parent, the foreign birth certificate must be provided, along with proof of citizenship of the U.S. parent and an affidavit from the parent that states the dates and places of residence in the United States and abroad before the child's birth.

Applicants also must present proof of identity to apply for a U.S. passport. Acceptable forms of identification include a previous U.S. passport, naturalization certificate or a current, valid driver's license, government ID (city, state or federal) or military ID (for military members and dependents).

U.S. passport applicants also must provide two passport photos. The photos must be identical to each other, 2 inches by 2 inches in size and taken within the past six months, showing the applicant's current appearance. Photos must feature the applicant facing forward, showing the full face against a white or off-white background, and there must be between one inch and 1-3/8 inches of space from the tip of the chin to the top of the head. Photos should be taken in normal street attire, and should show the applicant as they appear each day, including eyeglasses, though dark lenses are not allowed unless they are required for medical reasons - in which case medical certification may be required. Hats or headwear that camouflages the hairline are not acceptable. Uniforms should not be worn for passport photos, with the exception of religious attire that is normally worn every day.

Finally, applicants for a U.S. passport will have to pay an application fee. The current fee for a passport book for a minor under age 16 is $85; for citizens ages 16 and older, the fee is $100. Processing time for a new passport is estimated to take approximately four weeks, but expedited service is available for an additional fee.

Renewing an Existing U.S. Passport

In some circumstances, an existing U.S. passport can be renewed by mail. This involves applying for a passport card to accompany the passport book. Applicants qualify for renewal by mail if they already have a passport that isn't damaged and was issued within the past 15 years. Applicants also must have been at least 16 years old when the passport was issued and still have the same name (though a name change can be accepted with legal documentation).

The first step in applying for a passport renewal by mail is to fill out the Application for a U.S. Passport by Mail, form DS-82, which can be found online at the U.S. State Department Web site. The following must accompany the application: the most recent passport, two identical passport photographs that meet the acceptable standards, and a $75 fee payable to the U.S. Department of State. If the applicant's name has changed since the passport was issued, a certified copy of the marriage license, divorce decree, adoption decree court order or other legal document that specifies the name change must be included with the application. All application materials should be placed in a padded envelope and sent to the address that is given on the form.

Processing time for a passport renewal or passport card is estimated by the Department of State to take about four weeks; expedited service is available for an additional fee.

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