Travelers guide: getting a passport

YES I am bringing back the Traveler’s Guides! I have had quite a few friends recently asking me about how to get a passport, and it is really quite simple for most Americans. While you can always go to the official website https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html for all your information, I thought I would make it a little bit easier for y’all!

I want to say that as a person who was born in the United States of America (and has all of her proper documentation to prove that) I can only speak on the case of getting a Passport from this perspective. There are various challenges that may get in the way of a citizen obtaining a passport, I want to be very clear in the fact that if you fall into ANY of the following categories, this article may not be for you and I suggest you look at the official website for more information. 

Step One: Qualifications

If any of the following applies to you then this article may not apply to you and you should view the official travel.state.gov website for more information.

  • If you have had a passport at any point in your life. (USA or not).
  • If you are an American Citizen living in another country, wanting to apply for an American passport.
  • If you are under the age of 18.
  • If you are not an American citizen or permanent resident.
  • If you owe more than $2500 in child support currently.
  • If you will need special circumstances in regards to your passport (for example: Official, diplomatic, or other special issuance passport)

Now if you do not fall into any of those categories congratulations! It should be fairly easy for you to get your passport! Please move on to step two!

Step Two: Documentation

Make sure you have ON HAND the following documents:

Note: all citizenship documents will be taken by the facility and mailed back to you, whether or not your application is approved. 

  • Your birth certificate (original copy)
  • Your birth certificate (photocopy) (yes you need both)
  • Your valid driver’s license 
  • A photocopy of your valid drivers license 
  • Fee amount (two separate types of payment, one for the department of state, the other for the processing facility, we will get to this)
  • EITHER an acceptable photo that meets all the requirements for a passport OR a processing center that will provide a photo for an additional fee (I suggest this one to make things easier)

Please note: your Birth certificate MUST have the following: 

  • 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

If you do not have a birth certificate please see this page https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/citizenship-evidence.html

If you do not have a valid drivers licence please see this page: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/identification.html

Please note: All photocopies must be:

  • Legible
  • On white 8.5”x11” standard paper
  • Black and white
  • Single sided

Step Three Fees:

For the majority of travelers, a standard passport book is acceptable. You do not need to get a passport card, nor will you need to get extra pages in your book. Standard processing and delivery are free so as long as you allow enough time for this before your trip (I suggest several months just to be safe,) you will be able to get your passport for under $150. 

If you need your passport sooner rather than later you can opt to pay for expedited processing and shipping.

It is important to note that there are two forms of payment you will need to provide. You will be paying $110 to the department of state for your passport. This needs to be in the form of a check or money order payable to “The US Department of State.” There is an additional fee of $35 to the acceptance facility for processing your application. This can be paid in the form of a check or money order as well but it should be noted that it MUST be a seperate check or money order than the one noted above. Most acceptance facilities will accept debit/credit cards, but be sure to check with the facility beforehand. 

For more information on Fees: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/fees.html

Step four: Photos

Getting an appropriate passport photo seems difficult, but really it’s quite easy. But you will have to pay someone else to take it, since you can’t just bring in a selfie. 

I highly suggest choosing an acceptance facility that will take the photos for you, this means less stops for you. If you can’t find one or just want to use a different one then most photo centers will take passport photos for you, try your local Walgreens, CVS, or Walmart to see if they offer passport photos. 

To see the full list of qualifications for passport photos see the website (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/photos.html)

Step five: Applying at the facility

Find an acceptance facility near you using this link: https://iafdb.travel.state.gov/

After you find an acceptance facility near you and schedule an appointment (if needed, check with the facility first) then you will take yourself and all your documents and checks down to the facility to apply. 

They are usually pretty clear on where you need to go to apply once you’re in the building. 

After that, as long as everything goes well you should have your passport in the mail within 6-8 weeks. You can even track your application status online using this linkhttps://passportstatus.state.gov/ (note it can take around 7-10 days after applying to have any tracking information)

For more information on processing times: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/processing-times.html

Commonly asked questions:

Can you submit your application online?

The short answer is no.

Do I need a book or a card?

If you plan on traveling anywhere other than Canada or Mexico then you need a book. If you are only traveling to canada or mexico AND you will not be flying, then you can get a card. 

Basically, YOU NEED THE BOOK. very rarely will you ever need just the card. You’re welcome to get both but you will have to pay separate fees for both and it is basically a waste of time and money since you will need the book 99.9% of the time. 

Will/When will I get my documents back?

Yes, whether or not your application is approved you will receive your original documents in the mail. If you do get approved, your passport will be mailed separately than the documents, so around 6-8 weeks.

Do I need a passport to go on a cruise?

Technically no, for all “closed loop” cruises (starting & ending in the same country) you do not need a passport. However, you do need some form of citizenship identification linking you to the US. A passport would be your strongest form of identification, and is highly recommended just in case anything were to happen. Should you need medical attention, or need to be flown back to the states, you would need proper identification (A passport.)

Otherwise you would need your birth certificate and valid driver’s license, to prove your citizenship.

Is it worth it to get a passport?

Do you plan on traveling at all??? If the answer is no, then I guess it’s not worth it, it is all about your priorities. Yes, traveling can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be and if you make it a priority then you will be using your passport more, thus making it “worth” the investment.

Best place to get a passport in Knoxville? 

I went to the courthouse downtown to get mine, simply because there was a post office next door where I could get my money order and they would take the photo for me at the facility. All this just meant I could take a few hours out of my day and do it all at once!


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