PASSPORT BOOKS VERSUS PASSPORT CARDS
You’ll need a passport book to travel internationally. A passport book is just the regular old blue passport you see Americans posting everywhere on social media.
This is different from a passport card, which will only allow you to to travel by land or by sea (cruise ships, basically) to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
If you’re going to get any kind of passport, get the book. The book will cover you no matter where you travel in the entire world, whereas you’re severely limited to where you can travel if you get the card. And whatever you do, don’t get both the book and the card. The passport agency has an option to get both at once and that makes absolutely no sense at all.
Visas are entirely separate. A visa is an additional document that you need to enter specific countries. As an American, you can visit over 170 countries without needing a visa. You can learn more about visas here.
GET YOUR IDENTIFICATION TOGETHER
You (and your kids) need an original or certified copy of your birth certificate. If you don’t have one, contact the county courthouse where you were born. They can help you obtain a certified copy for a fee. For some counties, this service is available online. If you weren’t born in the US and don’t have a birth certificate, see here for other documents that are acceptable.
For anyone age 16 and up, you’ll also need a state-issued Driver’s License, a Military ID with photo, or an Identification Card. Your ID card must be issued by the state, municipality or federally-recognized Native American tribe. If you have no ID at all, your local Driver’s License office is where you can obtain a regular non-driver state ID.
If you changed your name recently but your ID doesn’t show your new name yet, bring along an original or certified copy of your name change document to the Passport office. A marriage certificate is one example of a name change document.
WHO CAN’T GET A PASSPORT
If you were ever convicted of international drug trafficking, you’ll never be able to get a passport. If you are currently on probation, you’ll need to wait until you’re off probation to apply for a passport.
If you owe over $2,500 in back child support, you are not eligible for a passport. Pay your back child support and then apply for a passport.
GET YOUR PHOTOS TAKEN
You’ll need two passport photos. Now isn’t the time to go digging through your Facebook profile pictures, trying to find the perfect photo. Instead, go somewhere local and have them do it for you. It usually costs anywhere from $10-15 to get the pictures, and almost any store with a photo-processing area will handle it for you. Many government passport offices will also take your picture, but it usually costs a little bit extra.
There’s no need to make an appointment. Just stroll into your local Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Costco, Sam’s Club, UPS or FedEx store. If in doubt, call them first to make sure they do passport photos.
GET YOUR PAYMENT READY
Everyone age 16 and up will pay a $110 application fee for their passport book. For everyone age 15 and under, this fee is $80.
There is also an execution fee of $35 which everyone of all ages must pay when applying for a passport for the first time.
You can only pay by cash, check, or money order. No debit or credit cards are accepted. The passport fee and the execution fee are paid separately. If you get a money order or use a check, make sure you bring one for $110 (or $80, for the kids) and another for $35.
LET’S GO APPLY!
You can apply for your passport at some post office facilities. However, I recommend going straight to a government passport office to apply. They can give you assistance filling out the forms and making sure everything is in order. Find your closest passport office here.
You can make an appointment at some places. Otherwise, just show up during business hours. They’ll take your application, the passport photos, your payment, and your birth certificate and mail it all off to Washington DC to be processed. Yes, they will take your birth certificate (and marriage certificate, if submitted). It will all be returned to you in the mail along with your new passport though.
The normal processing time is 6 weeks. Most people are currently receiving their passports within 2-3 weeks, but don’t count on it. If you’re planning to travel within a month, get your passport expedited just in case. The expedited option is an additional $60, and you’re guaranteed to get it within 2-3 weeks.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT…
When you receive your passport, make sure you sign it. If the passport is for a young child, print out their name and then sign yours next to it, and in parenthesis put your relationship to the child, i.e (mother) or (father).
For anyone age 16 and up, your passport is valid for 10 years. For age 15 and younger, the passport is valid for 5 years.
Do get your passport renewed when it is about six months away from the expiration date. Most countries won’t allow you to enter if you only have six months left before your passport expires.
Lastly, make a copy of your passport information page – the page with your picture. You can take a photo of it as well. Keep paper copies in a safe place (storing one in your luggage at all times is a great idea) or save an electronic copy online somewhere that you can easily access it from any device.
You’re all set. Now GO!