Getting ready to take your first trip out of the country? It’s pretty exciting. The packing, the lists, the future sights to be seen…the planning can be just as fun as the trip itself! But you’re not going anywhere without one little document that is your doorway to the rest of the world: your passport. Getting one isn’t difficult, but it does take some planning and a little bit of money. Here’s a general overview of how to get your first United States passport.
When applying for your first passport, whether as an adult or a child, you need to do so well in advance of your trip. According to the U.S. Department of State website, standard processing times for a new passport are about 4 to 6 weeks. Yes, weeks. You can get the passport application expedited down to 2 to 3 weeks, but that costs a good amount extra. You’ll need to build that processing time into your trip planning.
If it’s your first time applying for a passport, you must apply in person. No way around it. Some cases where you’ll need to apply in person:
- You are applying for your first U.S. passport
- You are under age 16
- Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16
- Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
- Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago
- Your name has changed since your U.S. passport was issued and you are unable to legally document your name change
Then you fill out form DS-11, and bring it with you to the passport agency. Don’t sign it until there’s a passport agent to witness it.
What to bring
You’ll need to bring some things with you too. Your birth certificate or other proof of being a U.S. Citizen; an ID, like a driver’s license; a photocopy of your ID; a passport photo; and a way to pay the application fee.
If you’re renewing your passport, you can renew by mail (nope, no online option). Print out form DS-82 and fill it out. Mail it in with your current passport (it must be in good condition; can’t be mutilated, damaged, or altered), a passport photo, and your payment. There are some minor restrictions, which you can read about here.
Once you receive your passport, you’re going to be very excited. There will be laughter and screaming, maybe even some crying. When you get that out of your system, put your passport in a safe place until you’re ready to travel. Protect this document as much as you can. It literally is your way into and out of countries around the world, and it’s a big hassle if you lose it or it’s stolen.
ON THE GO
Again, protect this document. It’s easy to lose your passport or have it stolen, so getting a passport wallet and following good safety measures while traveling will help you keep it.
Need more specific info? The State Department has a ton of great info all about passports on their website.