How Do I Get a United States Passport?

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Applying for a passport is not as confusing or overwhelming as it may seem. Knowing in advance what legal documents are required will save a lot of time. Processing time varies, depending on application volume and other circumstances, but the U.S. Department of State recommends allowing at least 10 weeks during busy travel times such as summer.

Things You'll Need

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship:
  • Previous passport (must not be damaged)
  • Birth certificate
  • Certification of birth or consulate report of birth abroad
  • Naturalization certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship

Who Must Apply in Person

First-time applicants, anyone under the age of 16 and anyone whose last passport was issued when they were younger than 16 needs to apply in person. So do those who received their passports more than 15 years ago, or whose last passport was damaged, stolen or lost. Anyone whose name has changed, but lacks legal documentation of the change, must also apply for a new passport in person.

Applicants must complete form DS-11, which can be downloaded at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html. All instructions should be read carefully.

You can search the U.S. Postal Service's site for its passport application offices at http://usps.whitepages.com/passport. The U.S. Department of State has a similar search page for further locations: http://usps.whitepages.com/passport.

Renewing a passport can be done in person, or by mail if the following conditions are met: the passport was issued after the age of 16, the passport is in good condition and was issued fewer than 15 years ago in the applicant's current name (or if the name change can be legally documented). Form DS-82 must be completed, either online or by downloading, printing and submitting it by mail with the application. It can be accessed at http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/ds82/ds82_843.html. The old passport must be sent with the form, as well as two passport photos, application fees and proof of name change, if applicable.

Fees vary, depending on the applicant's age, and whether he is renewing or applying for a new passport. First-time applicants pay both application and execution fees, and those replacing their passports will only pay a renewal fee. Additional fees include a charge to expedite an application, have it sent by overnight delivery, or to conduct a file search when proof of citizenship is not available. Payment methods vary, depending on where the application is submitted.

Applicants should wait five to seven days to check the status of an application. This can be done at https://passportstatus.state.gov/opss/OPSS_Status_ip.asp. Another option is contacting the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778.

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