Planning to leave the country? Ever? Get your passport right now
A quick guide to getting your US Passport
The United States has some beautiful places to visit, but sometimes it’s just not enough. Maybe you’re looking to get your groove back in the Caribbean, desire travel abroad to Asia where the Sushi is top notch and people are kind or you’ve got your sights set on the colorful Instagrammable cities of Chefchaouen and Morocco in Africa. Not only for the sightseeing but for the learning experiences as well. Before you can pack your bags, hop on that plane and cross the ocean blue, you seriously need a passport. Something most American citizens don’t possess.
SIXTY-FOUR PERCENT of the population of the richest and most influential country in the world have never been abroad. That's assuming that the 36% of American with a passport at their disposal have ever used it. But that all changing. In 2017, the State Department issued 21,378,994 passports including 2,511,778 passport cards. Up nearly 3 million from 2016. That may not seem impressive, but passport applications had steadily declined since 2007 when the 18 million were issued. The same number issued in 2016! With a rebound in the economy, wanderlust on the rise and healthy weariness of potential political ramification, the lines at the passport offices are only getting longer.
So here some tips to make sure you get your blue book in time for your next vacation outside these United States.
What You’ll Need:
Note: Do not sign the application until instructed to do so by the acceptance agent
Evidence of US Citizenship
You must have one of the following:
- Valid, undamaged U.S. passport (may be expired)
- U.S. birth certificate, original with seal
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship
Valid Identification (and a bring photocopy)
You must have one of the following. Note: you cannot present one of the IDs above:
- Valid, undamaged U.S. passport (may be expired)
- Valid U.S. driver's license
- Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
- Government employee ID
- U.S. military ID or military dependent ID
- Valid foreign passport
- Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular Identification)
You need one 2" by 2" color passport photo with white background. Your head must face the camera directly with full face in view, have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open, taken in clothing normally worn on a daily basis and in the past 6 months. Think DMV. You can get this take at most FedEx, CVS, Walgreens or Walmarts. Some passport offices will offer this service as well.
Application Fees and Execution Fees are paid separately. Calculate exact fees here.
Most common: Passport Book $110 + Execution Fee $25
12 weeks or more
Your first step in obtaining your passport is to locate a facility in which you can submit the application, documents, and fees. Some post offices and libraries are capable, depending on where you live. If you live in a major city, you may be lucky enough to have the state department at your disposal.
Gathering your necessary documents. Application, driver’s license, birth certificate, and a 2x2 photo of yourself. You likely do not have such a small photo just lying around, so make a trip to your nearest pharmacy, and check out their photo center, to order the appropriate size. Once you have everything together, all you will have to do is turn it in, and wait!
Typically, the turnaround time to receive your passport is about 6-8 weeks. Pending on how long it takes you to gather your documents and check or money order, applying for your passport three months in advance should be enough time to receive it before your trip.
2 weeks to 4 weeks out
Not everyone always has ample time to obtain a passport. Perhaps a sudden emergency has come up, or maybe you are just spontaneous. Either way expediting your passport includes all the steps listed above, but also an additional $60 fee, for the rush. You will not be able to mail your application in and instead will need to schedule an appointment with the nearest passport acceptance facility.
It will only take about 2-3 weeks from the time you apply for your passport, to the time it is delivered to your mailbox.
Less than 2 weeks
To receive a passport in less than one week, you must make an appointment with a passport agency, through your state department. Appointments may not be available the same day and depending on where you are located, there’s a good chance you’ll have to leave the state for this. There are only 26 in the entire country and several of them are in California and Texas.
Prior to my trip to Jamaica after a series of mishaps, I was without a passport and received on the day before my flight. I had to drive to Atlanta, were thankful I was already flying from and spend the morning having my passport expedited. I’d had been there previously so my expedition was expedited and that still took 6 hrs because the passport had to be made.
If you need to leave the country within 72 hours, even due to a life or death situation, proof of the situation must be provided. You cannot get a passport that quickly, just because you do not want to wait. You will need a boarding pass in hand (or online.) There must be some urgency. All the above steps will be necessary and additional fees will be included in this process, as well. And you will wait. All day.
If you already have a passport, but it is expired, or about to expire, you will need to renew it. The process is easy, involves a slightly different form, and less documentation. You will still need a passport photo, a form, payment, and your most recent passport. You can visit the office in person to drop it off, or you may submit your application through the mail. Your official documents will be returned afterward, so do not worry about not getting them back.