How to Get a Passport: Your Essential Guide

Not sure where to go or what to bring when getting your passport? Read this before you set out to apply or renew.
Last updated Jun 29, 2020 | By Lindsay Frankel
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More people have a valid U.S. passport now than ever before. Even though travel habits have changed, the process of applying for or renewing a passport hasn’t evolved much over time. You still need to supply the required documentation, either by mail (for renewals) or in-person. And you should understand the guidelines and timeline for getting a passport so you don’t make a mistake that could cost you your dream international vacation.

If you’re wondering how to get a passport, where you can apply for one, what you’ll need to bring, and what the passport photo requirements are, we’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide to the entire process.

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How to get a passport

If you’re applying for a passport for the first time, or if your old passport is damaged, missing, or more than 15 years old, you’ll need to apply in-person. You can do so at one of the thousands of passport acceptance facilities across the country, located at passport agencies, post offices, courthouses, libraries, and other government buildings. Search by zip code to find one near you.

If you’re renewing your passport, you can do so by mail, provided you meet the following requirements:

  • Your passport isn’t damaged or lost
  • Your passport was issued less than 15 years ago
  • You were 16 or older when you got your passport
  • Your passport has your current name (or you can provide documentation of your name change)

What documents you need to get a passport

Depending on your situation, different documentation may be required to get your passport. For instance, you’ll require more documentation when you apply for your first passport than you will to renew an existing passport. Here’s what you’ll need to bring with you — or mail it in, if you’re renewing your passport.

If you’re getting your first passport

  • A completed form DS-11
  • An original or certified copy plus one photocopy of one of the following (can’t be digital):
    • U.S. birth certificate
    • Consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth
    • Certificate of naturalization
    • Certificate of citizenship
  • An original identifying document plus a photocopy of any of these forms of ID (can’t be digital):
    • In-state, valid driver’s license
    • Certificate of naturalization
    • Certificate of citizenship
    • Government employee ID
    • U.S. military or military dependent ID
    • Current and valid foreign passport
    • Mexican consular ID or green card (for parents of U.S. citizen applicants)
    • Trusted Traveler IDs (such as Global Entry card)
    • In-state learner’s permit, non-driver ID with photo, or temporary driver’s license (may require an additional form of ID)
  • Passport photo that meets the requirements
  • Payment

If you’re renewing your passport

  • A completed form DS-82
  • Your most recent passport
  • A passport photo that meets the requirements
  • A check or money order made payable to the U.S. Department of State

If you’re correcting an existing passport

There are some instances in which you may need to correct your name or other data on an existing passport. For a name change, supply the same documents you would for a renewal, plus an original marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order. If it’s been less than a year since your passport was issued, you can use form DS-5504 and you won’t have to pay any fees. If you do not have a name change document, you can correct your passport in person by bringing a photo ID and photocopied document with your new name.

If there’s a data or printing error on a passport, you can correct it by submitting form DS-5504. You’ll need to include evidence of the error, your passport, and a color photo that meets passport photo guidelines.

Passport photo guidelines

To get a U.S. passport, there are several requirements you’ll need to follow when it comes to your passport photo. Otherwise, your passport application could be delayed, which isn’t ideal if you need it to travel in the near future. Your photo should be:

  • 2-by-2 inches (with your head measuring 1-by-1 3/8 inches)
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo paper
  • Not digitally altered
  • Not damaged
  • Have a plain white or off-white background

You’ll also need to follow guidelines related to your facial expression and attire. (Did we mention these guidelines were pretty specific?)

  • Don’t wear glasses
  • Don’t wear a uniform or camouflage attire
  • Don’t wear a hat or head covering (unless for religious or medical reasons, in which case you must submit a signed statement)
  • Don’t wear headphones or hands-free devices
  • Keep both eyes open
  • Have a neutral expression or natural smile
  • Face the camera directly

And remember, no selfies and #nofilter. Your passport photo may not be as flattering as your social media photos, but at least your passport will be valid for travel.

Passport fees and how to pay them

The following fees are for a U.S. passport book, which you’ll need for international air travel. (We will discuss passport cards shortly.) Note that first-time applicants will pay two fees: an application fee payable to the U.S. Department of State, and an execution fee paid to the acceptance facility.

Type of application Application fee Execution fee
First-time adult passport book $110 $35
Minor applicants for passport book $80 $35
Adult renewal passport book $110 N/A

In addition, there are a few optional fees you may need to pay depending on your specific travel or personal situation:

  • Expedite fee: $60
  • 1-2 day delivery fee: $17.13
  • File search fee (if unable to prove U.S. citizenship): $150

Error correction applications are free, and so are name change applications if it’s been less than one year since your passport was issued. Otherwise, you’ll pay the same fee as you would with an adult renewal application.

Location Payment methods
Passport acceptance facility Application and additional service fees:
  • Checks and money orders payable to U.S. Department of State

Execution fee paid separately:

  • Money orders (all locations)
  • Personal checks or exact cash (some locations)
  • Credit cards (some locations; fees may apply)
By mail All fees:
  • Checks and money orders payable to U.S. Department of State
Passport agency All fees:
  • Credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
  • Debit cards with Visa or Mastercard logo
  • Prepaid credit card or gift card with the Visa or Mastercard logo
  • Checks and money orders payable to U.S. Department of State
  • Exact cash

FAQs about getting a passport

How long does it take to get a passport?

The length of time it takes to get a passport can vary greatly, depending on your specific situation. For instance, it is possible to get one in 72 hours if it’s an emergency, but you need to apply directly at a passport agency and submit proof of your emergency as well as your travel itinerary.

When you need your passport Type of service Where to apply
More than eight weeks* Routine Apply at an acceptance facility or renew by mail
Three-to-eight weeks* Expedited Expedite at an acceptance facility or expedite a renewal by mail
Less than three weeks* Expedited at an agency or center Make an appointment at a passport agency or center and bring proof of travel
Within 72 hours* Life-or-death emergency service Make an appointment at a passport agency or center and bring proof of the emergency and your travel itinerary

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, passport processing times are delayed significantly. Expedited passport renewals are currently suspended. Passport agencies are still offering emergency renewals, depending on individual circumstances. Contact your local passport agency if you have questions.

How much does it cost to get a passport?

A passport costs $110 for adults and $80 for minors. If you’re a minor or applying for the first time, you’ll pay an additional $35 execution fee. This fee also applies if your previous passport was damaged or lost.

What's the difference between a passport book and a passport card?

A passport card is only valid for crossing a land border or sea point-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. It’s also a Real ID approved for domestic flights. It cannot, however, be used for international air travel from the U.S. A passport book is valid for international travel by air, sea, or land.

How long does it take to get a passport renewed?

Due to COVID-19, routine passport renewals are significantly delayed, and expedited renewals are suspended. Emergency renewals are still offered. If you need a foreign visa within four weeks or are planning to travel within two weeks, contact your local passport agency to discuss your circumstances.

Can I get a passport at the post office?

Some U.S. post offices are passport acceptance facilities. To find one near you, search by your zip code. Note that if you need your passport in less than three weeks, you’ll need to go to a passport agency or center to apply for or renew it.

Can I take my own passport photo?

Yes. However, there are very specific requirements regarding the size and background, along with your expression and attire. You’ll need to make sure you meet all the requirements if you’re taking the photo yourself. You can also have your photo taken at a location that handles passport photos. The latter might be a better option if you want to avoid potential delays with your passport application.

Save on foreign transaction fees with a travel credit card

Once you have your passport, you’ll want to make sure you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees for your international trip. Depending on your situation, you may even need more than one. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel Card from American Express offers an excellent rewards rate on travel and dining and a $0 annual fee.

However, American Express cards aren’t accepted everywhere, so you might want to bring a Visa or Mastercard with you as well. One great option is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card, which offers 2X miles on every purchase, every day and a generous welcome bonus. Plus, you get a fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Or, if you want to avoid the $95 annual fee, check out the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card. This card has a $0 annual fee, and you can earn 1.5X points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Because none of these cards have foreign transaction fees, you won’t get dinged every time you try to make a purchase outside of the U.S. And you’ll rack up plenty of points when you use these cards to purchase your flight, book a hotel, or eat out at a restaurant. Earning rewards when you spend means you’ll start building the funds for your next trip, so you can cross more locations off your bucket list for less.

Incredibly Flexible Rewards

Benefits

  • 100,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees