Passports are not just for James Bond characters or foreign diplomats. Passports are vital for everyone wanting to travel outside of the country. We’re going to reveal how easy it is for you to obtain your first official U.S. passport, otherwise known as the key to international travel. Often it’s as easy as getting your driver license, or maybe even easier. For simplicity’s sake, these instructions are for United States citizens over the age of 16 getting a first passport. (If you have any questions about applying for a U.S. passport under other conditions, let us know in the comments below and we will try to get the information you need.)
The best time to apply for your passport is at least 6 weeks in advance of any planned foreign travel. You need to allow plenty of time for processing your application. (If you need a passport in less than 4 weeks, you will often need to make an appointment and may face additional expedited processing charges. So plan to do this early!)
First time applicants must fill out a simple 2-page form, the DS-11, either online or by hand. On the left you can see a small screen shot of the top of the form. When you print the DS-11, you will also receive detailed instructions to guide you.
Along with the form, you will need:
1. Proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a birth certificate. If you are unsure where to write for a certified copy of yours, use this handy link provided by the CDC.)
2. Proof of identity (your original driver license plus a copy of the front and back)
3. Recent color photograph (It’s fast, easy and cheap to get this done at a drugstore like Walgreens.)
4. Fees (at the time of publication, $110 plus $25 execution fee)
These items and your application must be submitted in person. To find a location near you, go to http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/, and enter your zip code. For example, I found three offices within 5 miles of me in a small town.
An adult U.S. passport is valid for 10 years and you should renew it about 9 months before it is set to expire. Some countries will not allow entry if you are within 6 months of the expiration date.
Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to apply for your passport, go for it! In my experience, the blank pages of my brand new passport were just the push I needed to start traveling many years ago. I’m on my second passport book now and each country’s stamp is a memory I cherish.
**All of the above information was accurate as of the date of publication: November 2012. We will attempt to always keep this blog current, but please visit the U.S. Department of State’s website http://travel.state.gov or call 877-487-2778 to confirm that the rules, form, or fees have not changed.
November 19, 2012
by Melanie Watterson