United States Passport Requirements: Everything You Need Know

A passport is the key to your freedom. It will enable you to explore foreign lands, learn about different cultures, meet new people and eat delectable cuisine. A passport will be your ticket to ride elephants in India, explore ancient ruins in Greece, climb to the top of Mt. Fuji, ski the Swiss Alps, go on an African Safari, relax on the beaches of Bali, or sample the finest Parisian fare. It will eventually be require for even domestic travel, so it makes sense to get one sooner rather than later.

Applying for a passport is easier than you might think, if you follow these simple steps. Review these United States passport requirements and you will be on the international adventure of a lifetime before you know it.


Following the passport application deadline guidelines is extremely important. There is nothing more stressful that applying too late and having to frantically call the US Passport Agency for a status update 24 hours before your trip. I know from experience! Occasionally, there are circumstances beyond your control that warrant an expedited service, but avoid the extra fees, if you can and get things done early. Processing times vary seasonally, but here are the typical time frames.

Routine service: 6-8 weeks

Expidited Service: 2-3 weeks

Expedited at an Agnecy Location: 8 business days. This process has to be completed in person and must fall under the following categories:

  • Immediate life or death emergency
  • Travelling within two weeks

What You Need

The US Passport agency requires a number of pieces of documentation to apply. If you forget something, they will deny you and you will have to come back when you have everything.

Two Passport Pictures: You can usually get passport pictures taken during certain times of the week at your local post office, library or AAA location. Some places require and appointment so be sure to call them to get the exact information you need before going and standing in line for half an hour just to be denied. In the past, I have checked the local post office website for schedules, gone to get my picture taken, only to find out that the days and times changed, they just never updated the website. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Proof of Citizenship: There are primary and secondary forms of US citizenship that can be photocopied front and back and sent along with your application. It must be a black and white copy, legible, and on single sided 8.5×11″ paper. Here’s a list of what you can submit:

If You Were Born in the US:

  • Primary- valid, undamaged US passport (can be expired) or a U.S. Birth Certificate
  • Secondary- Delayed Birth Certificate (filed more than one year after birth), a Letter of No Record, along with one early public document and one early private document with Form DS-10: Birth Affidavit.

If You Were Born Outside the US but were a US citizen at Birth:

  • Primary- valid, undamaged US passport (can be expired),Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship
  • Secondary- Your foreign birth certificate listing your parent(s), your parent(s)’ evidence of U.S. citizenship, your parents’ marriage certificate, if applicable, a statement from your U.S. citizen parent(s) detailing all periods and places of their residence or physical presence in the United States and abroad before your birth.


Unsigned Forms: There are a number of forms you can fill out to apply for a passport. Fill the form out in its entirety, but do not sign it. You will do that in front of the agent who is processing your application.

  • Application For A U.S. Passport (DS-11): This form is for first timers or anyone who is applying for a child under 16 years of age.
  • Data Corrections, Some Name Changes, and Limited-Validity Passports (DS-5504): You are eligible for this form if you need to change or correct your current passport.


The Fee: A first time, standard US passport processed in the typical amount of time, will cost about $145. The tighter the deadline, the higher the fee. Passport Acceptance Facilities only accept checks or money orders, so come prepared. If you apply at a Passport Agency, they take credit card, cash, etc. Here is a breakdown of the more common fees:

Adult First-Time Applicant: DS-11: $110, Processing Fee: $35

Some Passport Acceptance Facilities process the passport application as well as take the picture, so it may save some time to bring everything with you when you go. This link will take you to a search engine for facilities in your area.

Passport Renewal

Proof of Citizenship: You can renew your passport much more easily than when you applied the first time. Your expired passport counts as proof of citizenship and they do return it to you. There is a slightly different form but the process is mainly the same.

Two Passport Pictures: You must get new photos taken at an approved facility.

Unsigned Forms: Fill out Renewal Application (DS-82) and bring it to the facility unsigned. Use this form if you are over the age of 16 and have had a valid US passport before.

Fee: On the bright side, you don’t have to pay a processing fee if you are renewing your passport. Here’s the fee breakdown:

Passport Renewal Applicant: DS-82 $110

Proof of Name Change: If you have recently gotten married or have any other reason to change your name on your current passport, you will need to fill out a DS-5504, which is for data corrections, some name changes, and limited-validity passports.

Child Applicants

Children (16 and under) are required to fill out the same passport application as first time adults, even if they are renewing their passport. Both parents need to be present with the child when applying for the passport. They are only valid for 5 years as opposed to the 10 years that adult passports are valid for, so stay on top of expirations. Five years goes by quickly. The form you will need is: DS-11

Extenuating Circumstance:

If, for some reason both parents cannot accompany the child at the time of application, the unavailable parent must fill out a Statement of Consent for Issuing a Passport to a Child: DS-3053

If the other parent cannot be located to be present or fill out the Statement of Consent for Issuing a Passport to a Child form, you can submit a Statement of Special Family Circumstances form: DS-5525

Fee: Here’s the fee breakdown for a child’s passport

Child Applicant: DS-11 $80, Processing Fee: $35

Passport Book Vs. Card

You can apply for a passport card as opposed to a passport book but cards have limitations. Here’s a comparison of the two:

Passport Books: They are valid for world travel over land, sea and air. The fees are slightly higher but everything else is the same, including applications deadlines and processing times.

Passport Cards: Cards are only valid for travel to Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean via land and sea. Plus, there is no place to put cool stamps that document all of the fabulous places you’ve traveled to!

It is worth the extra fee to have access to the entire world as opposed to just a few tropical destinations. Why limit yourself if you don’t have to!

U.S. Passport Restrictions

The U.S. Department of State will not restrict travel to any country, although it will put constraints on what you can do while there. In some countries you must get permission to engage in certain activities.

What if My Application is Denied?

The U.S. Department of State can deny your passport application for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Being subject to foreign extradition requests
  • Certain court orders or declarations
  • If you default on a loan from the Department of State. Once this loan is repaid, you are free to reapply.
  • If you owe child support
  • If you had a previous passport revoked
  • If you get a taxpayer notice about having overdue or unpaid taxes
  • If there are minors involved in a custody dispute

Summing it Up

A U.S. Passport will open doors to you that you never knew existed. It is a small price to pay for the freedom and intrigue of world travel. As long as you follow the rules, it is easy to apply and get one for your next big adventure.

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