What’s the one thing that practically everybody needs at some point and most people don’t have? And you can’t say money.
Times up! The answer: a passport. It doesn’t exactly jump to mind as a necessary piece of personal documentation, unless you have to take an unexpected trip abroad for a business meeting, a family situation, or a vacation.
Honestly, even if you don’t plan to leave the country, a passport makes for an excellent form of identification. You never know when it will come in handy. In fact, you even need one now to go to Canada.
Figuring out all the things you need can be daunting. Everything is located at the U.S. Department of State’s website, but I’ve tried to make it easier for you by distilling the pertinent information right here. Here’s how to apply for a U.S. passport.
First, get “Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport” and fill it out. You’ll find it online or you can pick one it up in person at your post office or some other municipal government building.
Fill out the form and bring it to a passport acceptance facility. You have to apply for a passport in person. You cannot mail the form in. I went to the Passport Office in Philadelphia, but you can just as easily go to your post office.
You’ll need to bring three items with you: proof of citizenship, identification, and a recent photograph. You’ll need your birth certificate to prove you are a U.S. citizen. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to find something that will work just as well. For example, certificate of citizenship, baptismal certificate, census record, early school record, or family bible record are all acceptable.
Next you’ll need identification. You can use a valid driver’s license, a previously issued U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, or a current government or military I.D. Lastly, you’ll need a photo. You can get that taken anywhere, including Walgreen’s, where I got mine taken in less than five minutes. Remember, you don’t have to look like a movie star in your photo, just be recognizable. And yes, you can definitely have your photo taken in color.
When you get your photo, it’s a good idea to purchase some extras. Chances are you’re going to need visas at some point, and it’s cheaper to buy a few additional photos and keep them to use as needed. When everything is signed and verified, your application will be processed, and you’ll receive your passport in the mail four to six weeks later.
If you’re under 16 and need a passport or want to get one for your child, the same steps apply but with a few slight alterations. The biggest difference is that the minor must apply in person with both parents or a guardian.
The parents or guardian must also submit evidence of their relationship to the minor. This can be proven through the minor’s certified U.S. birth certificate, certified foreign birth certificate, or their report of birth abroad with both parents’ names. Also acceptable are an adoption decree with adopting parents’ names, court order establishing custody, or court order establishing guardianship.
If you’re anxious to know where your passport is in the application process after you’ve applied, you can check the status of your U.S. passport application online. When it finally arrives, sign it right away. Then make a couple of nice, crisp photocopies of the signature and photo pages. File away one copy, and put the other one in your wallet. This is in case you lose your passport, but I’ll talk about what to do if that happens in a later post.
If you’re considering getting a passport, I suggest applying very soon. I told you before that the fees for applying for a passport and other services might be increasing substantially in the near future. So save yourself the few extra bucks and get it taken care of now.
If you have any questions, the U.S. Department of State has comprehensive list of FAQs or you can write to me. In addition to telling you what to do if your passport gets lost or stolen, I will also cover how to renew your passport, and how to add visa pages to your passport in upcoming posts.