In general, it is a good idea to have a passport even if you are only visiting Canada or Mexico or just going on a cruise that originates and ends in a US city. A passport is hands-down the best form of identification and proof of citizenship. Plus, if you want to travel the globe, a passport is required by all the countries outside North America. Some also require a visa.
In addition, Americans need to get advance visas to Brazil, China, Russia, India, Vietnam and most countries on the African continent. Also, if you enter Mexico by air, you will need a passport. However, no passport is required in US Territories which are Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or the North Mariana Islands. But having a passport is still a good idea to have a second form of identification while traveling.
What you will need to apply for a passport:
- Passport application forms (DS-11)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
- Proof of your identity
- Two current photographs
- Your social security number
- A passport photo
- Applicable fee payment method
You must apply in person if you are applying for your first passport or you under the age of 16 or your passport has been lost or stolen. If you need your passport renewal expedited, it is also a good idea to go in person. Many US Post Offices will process the paperwork and even take your passport photo.
To find a passport acceptance facility visit https://iafdb.travel.state.gov/
Forms for proof of citizenship you must have one of the following, and it must be an original or certified copy. A certified copy is any document that has the seal or stamp of the official issuing authority:
- Fully-valid, undamaged U.S. passport (may be expired)
- U.S. birth certificate that meets the following requirements:
- Issued by the city, county, or state of birth
- Lists your full name, date of birth, and place of birth
- Lists your parent(s)’ full names
- Has the date filed with registrar’s office (must be within one year of birth)
- Has the registrar’s signature
- Has the seal of the issuing authority
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship
One passport photo must also be provided. Many drug store chains now do passport photos for under $20 and many US Postal Offices that process passports also offer passport photo service.
Passport Photo Requirements:
- A color headshot photo taken within the last 6 months
- Photo must be a clear image of your face that reflects your true skin tone with no alterations
- Glasses or head coverings cannot be worn
- Must be a plain white or off-white background
- Must be a high-resolution photo that is not blurry, grainy, or pixelated.
- Size must be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm)
- Head must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
- Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
- Photo cannot be damaged with holes, creases, or smudges
- A uniform or camouflage clothing is not allowed
- You can wear jewelry and have facial piercings as long as they do not hide your face.
- Permanent tattoos are acceptable for passport photos
- Must be a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
- A front-facing, full-face view photo looking directly into the camera
The application fee to get a passport or renew a passport is $110 with an additional $35 execution fee paid separately. For an expedited passport that you can get in two to four weeks, the charge is $60 to get it in one to two days it’s an extra $16.48.
If applying in person checks (personal, certified, cashier’s, traveler’s) and money orders payable to “US Department of State.” Credit and debit cards are not accepted
If you are renewing by mail checks (personal, certified, cashier’s, traveler’s) and money orders payable to “US Department of State.”
You can renew your passport by mail if you meet all five criteria below by using Form DS-82.
Your expired passport:
- Is submitted with your application
- Is undamaged (other than normal “wear and tear”)
- Was issued when you were age 16 or older
- Was issued within the last 15 years
- Was issued in your current name (or you can document your name change with an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order)