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How to Apply for a U.S. Passport or Visa | Frommer's Pixabay

How to Apply for a U.S. Passport or Visa

Here's everything you need to get an American passport or a passport card: the rules, fees, instructions, photos, forms, and directions.

Last updated April 13, 2021

Jump to: First-Time Applications
Jump to: Renewals
Jump to: Passport Cards
Jump to: Fees
Jump to: Passport Agencies
Jump to: Passport & Visa Expeditors

All U.S. citizens, including children, are required to obtain passports in their own names for identification while traveling abroad and for re-entry into the United States. Passports also satisfy the requirements for Real ID.

Unless specifically authorized by a passport issuing office, no person may have more than one valid, or potentially valid, US passport of the same type at any one time. Following is a summary of the passport application process that was compiled from information provided by the U.S. State Department, which maintains a web site at travel.state.gov.

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You can download PDF versions of all applications through the official form finder at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/form-finder.html.

First-Time Passport Applications

If you are applying for your first U.S. Passport, you must apply in person at one of more than 5,000 facilities, such as Clerks of Court and Post Offices, which accept passport applications. To find your nearest acceptance facility, visit travel.state.gov or contact the National Passport Information Center at 877/487-2778. You will need to provide the following documents:

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1. One item of proof of United States citizenship or nationality such as: an expired U.S. passport, a certified copy of a birth certificate (one issued from a government office, not a hospital; click here to find out how to obtain one) for all applicants born in the U.S., a Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship, or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. Bring a one-sided photocopy as well.

2. Proof of identity (photo ID with signature) such as a previous or current U.S. passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, a valid driver's license, or a valid government or military identification card. Here's a list of other acceptable IDs. Bring a one-sided photocopy as well.

3. One clear passport photograph taken within the last six months. Do not re-use ID photos that were taken before then. The photographs must be 2x2 inches (51 mm x 51 mm) with and your head should be about 1 and 1 3/8 inches (25–25 mm) tall (digital images must be between 600x600 pixels and 1200x1200 pixels; there's a cropping tool on the State Department's website). Photographs must be in color of a front view, full face, taken in normal street attire (no uniforms or camouflage) without a hat or glasses, with a plain white or off-white background. Someone else must take the photo; no selfies are permitted. No photo filters may be used, and no photos with red eye may be used. You may have a natural smile and you may wear jewelry or piercings that do no obstruct your face. See the State Department's Photo Tool for examples. 

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4. A completed passport application form DS-11 which contains all the requested information except your signature. This form must be signed in the presence of an authorized executing official.

After you apply, you can track the status of your application online at passportstatus.state.gov. If your status reads "Not Available," don't panic, because it may take up to four weeks for your status to be changed to "In Process."

Once your status is "Mailed," it should take about 10 days to receive your new passport. 

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In 2021, the process took 10–12 weeks for standard ("routine") service and four to six weeks for for "expedited" service that cost an extra $60.

Passport Renewals

Applicants who have had a previous U.S. passport issued within the past 15 years, and who were 16 or older when the passport was issued, may be eligible to apply for a new passport by mail, providing they can submit their old passport and their name has not changed (or, if it has, you send the original, certified copy of government evidence of the change). They may also apply in person. Documents required for passport renewals include:

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1. U.S. passport (current or expired)

2. One passport photo following the rules in point 3, above.

3. A completed passport application form DS-82, which contains all the requested information and is signed and dated. You can fill the form online or download the form and mail the completed application and attachments to:

Routine Service (if you live in California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, or Texas):

National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 640155
Irving, TX 75064-0155

Routine Service (if you live in any other state or Canada):

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National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90155
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155

Expedited Service: (include overnight delivery and expedited delivery fees, usually $60)
National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90955
Philadelphia, PA 1910-0955

Use the United States Postal Service (USPS) and an envelope large enough to fit the application without folding. Request Priority Mail Express, which is the fastest trackable delivery method offered by the USPS. Your previous passport (now made invalid with a hole punch) will be returned to you with your new passport.
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Passport Cards
Passport cards, a wallet-sized alternative or addition to a passport book, are a cheaper but more limited option. A passport card allows travel from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda via land border crossings or sea ports of entry. Notice that the passport card cannot be used to fly internationally (for that, you'll need a passport book), but it does satisfy the requirements for Real ID.

If you already have a passport book:
If you are eligible to use the DS-82, you can apply by mail at the addresses listed under Passport Renewal
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If you do not already have a passport book/ are not eligible for the DS-82:
You must apply in person using form D-11. For more information, visit First-Time Passport Applicants

Passport Fees

Total fees for a first-time 10-year passport if you are 16 years of age or older:
Passport Book - $145
Passport Card - $65
Passport Book and Card - $175


Total fees for an initial 10-year passport renewal if you are 16 years of age or older:
Passport Book - $110
Passport Book and Card - $140
Passport Card - $30

Total fees for a five-year passport if you are under 16 years of age:

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Passport Book - $115
Passport Book and Card - $130
Passport Card - $50

Note that the fees (click here for a table of the current charges on the State Department site) are usually split between the U.S. Department of State and the acceptance facility you use, so you may need to bring two checks. Some local governments are now charging additional processing fees as well. 

When to Apply for a Passport

Do not wait. Passport application processing time varies with the workload—it's not unusual for the process to take as long as 12 weeks, although you might be pleasantly surprised by a shorter wait. People tend to apply in the late winter and spring as they gear up for summer travel, so it's best to apply in the fall when workload volume is at its lowest. 

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Expedited Passports

If you are leaving on an emergency trip within five working days, there is a strictly limited number of processing slots avaiable at a higher fee. Apply in person at the nearest passport agency and present your tickets or travel itinerary from an airline, as well as the other required items. Or, mail your application overnight express mail and enclose a self-addressed, prepaid envelope for the overnight return of the passport, with a check made out to Passport Services and request for its return by overnight express mail.

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Be sure to include your dates of departure and travel plans on your application. Applications are processed according to the departure date indicated on the application form. If you give no departure date, the passport agency will assume you have no immediate travel plans. If you are leaving the country in less than 15 work days, enclose a $60 expediting fee (in addition to a two-way overnight mail fee, and the initial passport or renewal fee) and clearly mark the envelope "EXPEDITED."

Passport Security

When traveling abroad, carry your passport with you at all times in a safe place. It is a good idea to take a photo copy of your passport with you and keep it in a separate safe place. It's also a good idea to store a backup photograph of the information page in an email or cloud account you can access from anywhere. If your passport is lost or stolen, U.S. embassies will usually accept this as proof that you're a citizen so they can quickly issue you a temporary passport. It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport with someone at home in case of emergency.

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There will be times you will be required to hand over your passport, such as when you board a cruise or, in certain countries, at a hotel desk when you check in. This is normal, but use your best judgment whenever anyone asks you to hand your passport over.

Obtaining Additional Visa Pages

Although you may request a passport with extra pages at no extra charge when you apply for one, the State Department will no longer add extra pages to your passport once it has been issued. When a passport fills, you must buy a new one. 

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Changing Your Name

If your name has been changed, you may have your current, valid passport amended with this new name. To do so, mail your passport with your Court Order, Adoption Decree or Marriage Certificate showing your name change, and a completed passport application form DS-5504 to the Passport Agency nearest you. You must complete the application and sign it in your new name.

Invalid Countries

In rare instances, the U.S. passport may not be accepted for entry, or it will not be accepted if it contains entry stamps from certain other countries. Before departure, double-check with the embassy or consulate of the nation you will be visiting.

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Also ensure that you do not attempt to use a passport that is due to expire within the year. Some countries will deny you entry if the document is nearing its expiration date—even as far as six months ahead.

Passport Agencies

All have limited 24-hour recordings which include basic information about the passport agency location, hours of operation and information regarding emergency passport services during non-working hours. For additional information try the U. S Department of State's Passport Information site: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/where-to-apply.html. Most passport acceptance facilities require appointments, so be sure to call before visiting your local office.

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Automated Appointment Number: 877/487-2778

Passport & Visa Expeditors

Should I Use an Expeditor?

If you are traveling to a country which requires a visa for entry and you are pressed for time, you may want to go through a visa or passport expeditor. The expeditor will go through the steps required to obtain the necessary documents with you, and submit them to the Embassy or Passport Office for you, sometimes even "walking" your documents to the appropriate office. There is, of course, a charge for these services, and you will have to give them your passport while they do the work.

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Depending on your destination and time schedule, using an expeditor can be a wise decision. Despite the fact that you are paying for the service, often times the expeditors have negotiated a wholesale price, passing a discount along to you. Other times, particularly if you are not in a hurry, you'll be better off going through the process yourself.

What are the Fees?

Passports

A reasonable expeditor will charge a fee of $85–$175 for passports processed within 9 days, and about $200 for those turned around within 3-8 days. This is in addition to the U.S. government fees, which are listed above. To have a visa expedited within 24 hours, you should expect to pay at least $200 to the expeditor. Shipping fees are additional; and many sites will give you a discount if you are processing a passport and a visa application, or more than one of either.

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Visas

Most visa expeditors will charge a service fee of $50–$100 to process a tourist visa, and slightly more, around $100–$150, to process a business visa, for normal processing. If you want it sooner, you can expect to pay double. These fees come in addition to consulate and shipping fees. Consulate fees vary greatly depending on your destination. The most expensive visas are to Russia and the former Soviet Union, China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

Keep in mind that for a fee of $60 (in addition to the standard application charges) the U.S. Passport Service will process expedited passports within three working days, but slots are extremely limited, so you can't rely on this method.

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Caveats, Precautions

Be sure to compare fees, to make sure you are getting the best deal. Some companies specialize in providing visas to certain countries, and will give you the best deal to those places in particular, but will have higher fees to other areas of the world.

Although many companies boast 24-hour service, be sure that it applies to you. Some expeditors require you to live in New York or Washington, D.C.

Also, be careful to fill out all forms correctly! If you fail to provide the necessary information (for example travel to some areas of the former Soviet Union still require an invitation), your visa or passport will be denied and you will still have to pay the expeditor.

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Be aware of hidden fees. If you are requesting 24-hour service and your documents must be walked to the agency, some companies will charge as much as $50 an hour for "waiting fee" if there is a delay at the office.

Once you get your passport or visa, you can skip the lines at the airport with memberships in TSA PreCheck or CBP Global Entry.

 

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