Applying for a U.S. Passport

stylish young lady walking with suitcase on red backdrop
Photo by Gustavo Fring on

Even thought we aren’t really able to travel right now, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and apply for a new passport. This post is going to focus on the steps to applying for a U.S. passport.

Please keep in mind too that as of October this year, if you do not have a real ID issued by your state, you will not be able to use your driver’s license to travel domestically, but you can use your passport.

The Photo

The required photo for all passports is 2 inches by 2 inches. It has to be taken on a white background. Do NOT wear white in the photo. The passport agency will not accept it. The same if you wear glasses. They can NOT be worn in the photo.

The photo must be taken in color and be within the last year. You must keep a ‘neutral’ expression basically meaning don’t smile. It should show your full face, facing forward and the tops of your shoulders. I have seen photos where the head is tilted sideways be rejected.

All the requirements are listed here.

If You’ve Had a Passport Before

travel documents and necessities
Photo by Taryn Elliott on

If you have had a valid U.S. passport in the last fifteen years, you are eligible to reapply or renew for your passport by via mail. All you will need are one 2×2 inch passport photo, your old passport, form DS-82 (you can download it here) and the payment to renew. Payment via mail must be made out in the form of a check.

The current cost as of Feb 2021 is $110 for the passport. If you tend to cross between the U.S. via sea or land border (ie: Canada or Mexico) you may want to consider adding on a passport card. That added cost is $30. It is NOT good for airtravel. FYI.

Processing time is 10-12 weeks. If you need it sooner you can order an expedited service for an additional $60.

If you don’t want to renew by mail, there is a different form you need. Almost all passport agencies require appointments, so make sure you check before you go.

First Time Passport Applicants

If you have never had a U.S. passport or it’s been more than 15 years, you must apply for a passport in person. You will need a 2 by 2 inch photo and a DS-11 form (you can download it here). If you have a child under 16, the process is a little different. I’ll cover that in a moment.

The U.S. Department of State requires a few other documents to ensure you are you.

The first document you will need is to show you are a US Citizenship. You must bring the original or certified physical copy AND a physical ingle sided black and white photocopy to submit (both front and back) of the document. The photocopy must be on 8.5 by 11 inch paper. Most people will use a birth certificate, naturalization certificate or citizenship certificate.

In my case, I used my birth certificate and photocopied both sides to submit for proof.

Next, you need a physical government issued I.D. card AND a photocopy of the I.D. The same rules apply, it must be in black and white, single sided and on 8.5 by 11 inch paper. I used my driver’s license. But there is a full list of items here.

For adults the cost is $110 for passport and $30 for the passport card. Processing time is 10-12 weeks. The cost is $35 for an expedited copy and 4-6 weeks.

Exceptions: Children Under 16

Passport rules for children are a little tricky. First off, if a 16 or 17 year old has had a passport before, they can renew by mail with a DS-82 form found here.

If applying in person:

If an applicant is 16-17 years old and has NOT had a passport, they must provide proof of parental awareness that they are applying for a passport. The parent or guardian must be present and show a government issued ID. They also must provide a physical copy of the I.D. and a signed note. The full information can be found here.

The passport is good for 10 years, however, to anyone under 16, it is only good for 5 years.

A child must apply for their own passport, meaning they must be present when the application is processed:

If a child hasn’t had a passport before, they must apply in person with a DS-11 AND 2 parents or guardians. The passport agency will ask for parental consent and for a document showing your relationship to the child. Info is here.

For children, the fees are reduced because of it’s short expiration. It is $80 for a passport and $15 for the card. The expedited fees are $35.

Wrapping Up

So I hope this short post has helped you. I’m not an expert, but I’ve traveled a lot and worked in areas related to travel and I’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen. Always check the US State Department website for the most up to date information. I do want to mention that your passport number changes when you get a new one so if you have global entry, don’t forget to update that. Good luck!