Disclaimer: This post may look like a beast, but I promise it is composed in a way that the information is easy to access, and all inclusive for your specific situation. Bear with me and I will help you navigate the waters of the US bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.
Before you can hop on a plane to a fabulous international destination, you need your passport. It used to be that if you were a US citizen and you were traveling to a bordering North American country (Canada or Mexico), all you needed was a birth certificate. But things have changed, and now you need your US passport any time you go outside of the country. You will need a passport for each person in your family, including of course your children. You need to start this process far ahead of time, especially if you are planning on traveling around the holidays because the Department of State gets a lot more applicaions around that time. Normal processing takes about six weeks, but it can take longer. You can also pay for expedited services, but who wants to spend extra money?
So how do you go about obtaining one of those blue, shiny books with your picture and information in it? Here are step by step instructions on how to get your US Passport.
The first step of getting a US Passport is actually being a US citizen… so you will need proof that you are indeed a citizen. Here are the accepted forms of proof (as described on http://travel.state.gov):
-Certified birth certificate issued by the city county, or state.
Think county registrar office, city hall, or state office. If you live in a state other than the state you were born in, you want to start this process way ahead of time because you are most likely going to have to wait for your birth certificate to be mailed. Check out your county of birth online for a number to call for specific instructions on how to obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate. Make sure that your birth certificate has the actual city you were born in, or it will not be valid to use for getting your passport (some states did not put cities on their birth certificates during certain periods).
-Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
This is really only applicable to those of us that were born outside of the US, like my son Timo. To obtain a copy of this, you need to send a notarized letter to the Department of State in Washington D.C. with specific information on it. To find out exactly what to put in the letter depending on your situation and for the address to send the letter to and associated fees, please check out this website.
For more information on how to get a copy of this document, visit this website.
-Certificate of Citizenship
This is what you will most likely bet getting if you have adopted a child or you were born abroad but did not get a Consular Report of Birth before you turned 18. For more information check out this website.
-A previously issued, undamaged US Passport
The second step should be easier than the first step. Make sure you have a current ID.
For adults this step is rather easy considering most of us have a driver’s license or current government issued ID. If you are applying for a passport in a state other than your ID represents, you will need to have a form of secondary identification (example: You have a Colorado driver’s license but you are applying for your passport in California). Secondary examples include your Social Security Card, Credit Card, Employee ID, Library Card.
For your children this step can seem a bit more tricky since they do not have a state issued ID. They will use yours instead, so make sure that you have copies of both parent’s IDs and that the birth certificate you bring shows you as the legal parents or guardians. Both parents must be present, or the one parent attending will need a notarized letter from the parent that is not present, more information is available here. You will also have to provide parental consent by signing their passport application form in front of the acceptance agent. Make sure you bring their Social Security Card with you. In my personal experience, I have never had to submit identification for my children other than their birth certificates. In addition, if your child is adopted, make sure to bring the adoption decree.
The third step is to provide a photo copy of your identification.
The photo copy must be on standard, white, letter sized paper showing the front and back of your ID, and nothing else. Don’t decrease the image to anything less than the actual size of your ID, in case you were planning on doing that. I know these instructions are tedious, but you are dealing with good old fashioned bureaucracy here. You also need to provide copies of your secondary IDs if you have them, just in case they actually ask for them. So far no one has asked me for copies of these, but you never know.
The fourth step is obtain acceptable passport photos. We make our own because it saves quite a bit of money (it costs about .18 cents for four if you do it yourself, or at least 10 dollars for two if you go to Costco or The UPS Store… for my family of five, that is a 49 dollar difference!!). For a tutorial on how to make acceptable passport photos at home, check out this tutorial. It is specifically for infants, but you can use it to get great passport photos of any family member, just use a white wall as a background. The Travel.state.gov website says that you only need one passport photo, but in my experience you need two. Take two just in case.
The fifth step is to prepare your method of payment. This is especially important to think about if you will need a money order. Call ahead to the place you will be going and get the exact prices for the different money orders you will need depending on how many passports you are applying for. The fees are changing constantly, so rather than post one here, just check out this site. No, getting a passport is not cheap, but at least they last a good amount of time (10 years for adults, 5 years for minors). If you are going to a passport agency, you can pay with credit card, check, or money order addressed to “Department of State.” Or if you are going to an Acceptance Facility you may only pay by check or money order. If you are going to an Acceptance Facility you will also need to pay an extra $25 charge separately for processing. Unfortunately, this charge applies to each individual application. Check out this website for more information.
Now that you have all of your documentation and passport photos, you are ready to go down to your local passport office and fill out your forms. You can also fill out the forms online and print them ahead of time, but do not sign them until you are in the office and the Acceptance Agents asks you to sign them, because they have to see you sign them in person for verification purposes. The information is generally standard, but you need to make sure you have Social Security Numbers for each family member you are applying for.
You can apply for a US Passport at different locations. The most well known is the US Postal Service, but you can look up your nearest passport agency on this website.
Here is a last minute check list of the things you need for the fifth step, going to turn in your application at an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency:
-Proof of US Citizenship
-Current Identification, including copies of parent/legal guardian identification for minors.
-Photo Copies of Current Identification
-The Social Security Numbers of each applying family member.
-Passport photos for each applying family member.
-Method of payment.
Prepare ahead of time so you only have to go down there once, and make sure that you take every family member that is applying to appear in person. Hope this list was helpful, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below. Welcome to the new world having your passport opens up to you!