One of the first rites of passage for any traveler is getting your passport. And while some people have been traveling internationally since they were little, plenty of others have never had a passport and don’t know how to get the process started. This information is for them. (Please note: The procedures described below apply to getting a passport under normal circumstances; as with everything else, the pandemic is continuing to throw the once-typical timelines into upheaval, and revised timelines are indicated).
What documents and information you need to apply for a passport
- A completed application (DS-11). You can fill out the application online or print this pdf copy to write in your responses.
- Proof of citizenship (a birth certificate or Consular Birth Report Abroad if born outside of the United States). Get a photocopy of the front of your citizenship proof and the back (if it has something written on the back). The photocopy must be on standard 8.5×11 inch paper, in black and white, and clearly visible. If you do not have a birth certificate, you’ll need to check out these rules for secondary forms of identification.
- Proof of identity with photo ID: state ID, driver’s license, military photo ID, employee ID, expired license, Medicare/health insurance card, or green card. You’ll need a copy of this to include in your application submission. You must present one form of primary ID. If you cannot produce one of the primary forms of ID you can also use 2 forms of secondary identification including marriage license, social security card, vehicle registration, employer identification card, student ID, and/or yearbook picture.
- A passport photo. The photo must be taken in the past six months, in full color, on a clean, white background. Also it must have a full view of the front of your face and should measure 2×2 inches. No glasses can be worn in the photo and you can smile as long as it is not extreme or closes your eyes.
Where to apply for a passport
There are multiple options you have when you’re applying for your passport. While some of these were closed during the pandemic, most government services have by now full reopened across the country.
- The post office
- Passport agencies (Here’s the list)
- County clerk’s office
- Private agencies. These agencies come with their own lists of pricing for services rendered, but they can help you expedite the process if you need to travel sooner rather than later.
How much does it cost to get a passport?
A passport book for a traveler 16 years of age and older costs $145, including the application fee ($110) and the acceptance fee ($35).
When applying at a passport agency you can pay via credit card, a debit card, checks (personal, cashier’s, certified, traveler’s), money orders, or the exact cash amount (no change will be given). You can also use a prepaid card that has a Visa or Mastercard logo. When applying through the mail you can pay with a check (again: personal, cashier’s, certified, traveler’s).
For additional services such as expediting, the fees are higher. For example, there’s a $60 add-on for expedited passport services. The entire list of fees can be found here.
How long does it take to get your passport?
Under normal circumstances, passports will be delivered by mail (if you mailed in your application) within 6-8 weeks. However, as the nation emerges from the pandemic, the State Department says the current wait time is closer to 18 weeks. If you choose expedited service, you used to be able to count on your passport being ready in 2-3 weeks, but currently, it’s closer to 12.
There is also an option to receive emergency expedited service, which at one point made same-day or 1-2 day service a possibility. Applying for such an exemption requires proof of travel (airline ticket confirmation, accommodation booking, and/or itinerary). If you need a passport immediately, apply directly at a passport agency that offers these quick turnaround times.
AZCentral offers the following tips for those seeking emergency services:
First, you’ll need an appointment. You cannot walk in. And appointments are mostly reserved for cases involving life and death emergencies. If that applies to your situation, call the office at 877-487-2778 to schedule your appointment.
There are very few appointments available for nonessential travel occurring within 72 hours and those fill up fast. If this is your situation, you can try to make an online appointment at https://passportappointment.travel.state.gov.
This article was originally published in May 2020 and updated on July 9, 2021 to reflect revised processing times during the pandemic as well as to update the article to meet current Lifehacker style.