Traveling abroad? Here’s a clear and concise rundown on everything you need to know about obtaining the necessary documents before you leave home.
All US citizens, including children, are required to obtain passports in their own names for identification while traveling abroad and for re-entry into the United States. Unless specifically authorized by a passport issuing office, no person may have more than one valid, or potentially valid, US passport of the same type at any one time. Following is a summary of the passport application process that was compiled from information provided by the US State Department, which maintains a web site at passports.state.gov.
You can download PDF versions of all applications at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/forms.html.
If you are applying for your first US Passport, you must apply in person at one of more than 5,000 facilities, such as Clerks of Court and Post Offices, which accept passport applications or at one of the regional Passport Agencies listed below. Call your county courthouse or the largest regional post office in your area or look under the blue pages of your phone book. You will need to provide the following documents:
1. Proof of United States citizenship or nationality such as: a certified copy of a birth certificate (one issued from a government office, not a hospital) for all applicants born in the US, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or an expired US passport.
2. Proof of identity (photo ID with signature) such as a previous US passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, a valid driver’s license, or a valid government or military identification card.
3. One passport photograph taken within the last six months. The photographs must be 2×2 inches with and your head should be about 1 and 1 3/8 inches tall (digital images must be between 600×600 pixels and 1200×1200 pixels; there’s a cropping tool on the State Department’s website). Photographs must be in color of a front view, full face, taken in normal street attire without a hat or dark glasses, with a plain white or off-white background. You may have a natural smile.
4. A completed passport application form DS-11 which contains all the requested information except your signature. This form must be signed in the presence of an authorized executing official.
Applicants who have had a previous U.S. passport issued within the past 15 years, and who were 16 or older when the passport was issued, may be eligible to apply for a new passport by mail, providing they can submit their old passport and their name has not changed (or, if it has, you send the original, certified copy of government evidence of the change). They may also apply in person. Documents required for passport renewals include:
1. U.S. Passport
2. One passport photo
3. A completed passport application form DS-82 which contains all the requested information and is signed and dated. You can obtain the forms online. Mail the completed application and attachments to:
National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90155
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155
Expedited Service: (include overnight delivery and expedited delivery fees)
National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90955
Philadelphia, PA 1910-0955
Your previous passport will be returned to you with your new passport.
Passport cards, an alternative or addition to the passport book, are a cheaper and more limited option. A passport card allows travel from the US to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda via land border crossings or sea ports of entry. Notice that the passport card cannot be used to fly internationally (for that you’ll need a passport book).
If you do not already have a passport book/ are not eligible for the DS-82:
You must apply in person using form D-11. For more information, visit First-Time Passport Applicants.
Fees for an initial 10-year passport if you are 16 years of age or older:
Passport Book – $135
Passport Book and Card – $165
Passport Card – $55
Fees for a five-year passport if you are under 16 years of age:
Passport Book – $105
Passport Book and Card – $120
Passport Card – $40
Note that the fee for a passport is written out as a check or money order to Passport Services and to the county clerk’s office, so you may need to bring two checks. Passport renewal fees are now $110 for a book and $30 for a card. Some local governments are now charging additional processing fees as well.
Time to Apply
Passport application processing time varies with passport agencies workloads. It is best to apply in the fall when workload volume is at its lowest. Processing time is normally about six weeks, but you should apply at least six to eight weeks prior to any scheduled international travel. The spring and summer months are the busiest so the application process may take longer during these months.
If you are leaving on an emergency trip within five working days, apply in person at the nearest passport agency and present your tickets or travel itinerary from an airline, as well as the other required items. Or, mail your application overnight express mail and enclose a include a self-addressed, prepaid envelope for the overnight return of the passport, with a check made out to Passport Services and request for its return by overnight express mail. Be sure to include your dates of departure and travel plans on your application. Applications are processed according to the departure date indicated on the application form. If you give no departure date, the passport agency will assume you have no immediate travel plans. If you are leaving the country in less than 15 work days, enclose a $60 expediting fee (in addition to a two-way overnight mail fee, and the initial passport or renewal fee) and clearly mark the envelope “EXPEDITED.”
When traveling abroad, carry your passport with you at all times in a safe place. It is a good idea to take a photo copy of your passport with you and keep it in a separate safe place along with copies of your credit cards, traveler’s checks and plane tickets. If your passport is lost or stolen, US embassies will usually accept this as proof that you’re a US citizen and can quickly issue you a temporary passport. It’s also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport with someone at home in case of emergency.
Obtaining Additional Visa Pages
The State Department has ended the ability to add extra pages to your passport. When a passport fills, you must buy a new one. However, there are two sizes of passport, small and large, and if you suspect you may fill your pages, when you apply for a passport you may request a book with more pages for no extra charge.
Changing Your Name
If your name has been changed, you may have your current, valid passport amended with this new name. To do so, mail your passport with your Court Order, Adoption Decree or Marriage Certificate showing your name change, and a completed passport application form DS-5504 to the Passport Agency nearest you. You must complete the application and sign it in your new name.
Check with the embassy or consulate for the countries you are visiting before departure; it is possible the US Passport will not be valid for entry into these countries.
All have limited 24-hour recordings which include basic information about the passport agency location, hours of operation and information regarding emergency passport services during non-working hours. For additional information try the U. S Department of State’s Passport Information Web site: http://www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html. Most passport agencies now require appointments to service passport applications, so be sure to call before visiting your local office.
Automated Appointment Number: 877-487-2778
Warning: Check these addresses against the State Department website to ensure they have not changed.
Boston Passport Agency
Tip O’Neil Federal Building
10 Causeway Street, Room 247
Boston, MA 02222-1094
Region: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Upstate New York, & Vermont
Chicago Passport Agency
Kluczynski Federal Building
230 S. Dearborn Street, 18th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604-1564
Region: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, & Wisconsin
Connecticut Passport Agency
850 Canal Street
Stamford, CT 06854
Region: Connecticut and Westchester County (New York)
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., local time, M-T,F, excluding Federal holidays
Honolulu Passport Agency
Prince Kuhio Federal Building
300 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96850
Region: American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Hawaii, & Northern Mariana Islands
Los Angeles Passport Agency
11000 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024-3615
Region: California (all counties South of an including San Luis Obispo, Kern and San Bernardino), and Nevada (Clark County only)
Miami Passport Agency
1501 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33132
Region: Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, & US Virgin Islands
New Orleans Passport Agency
One Canal Place
365 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-6508
Region: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia (except D.C. suburbs)
New York Passport Agency
Greater New York Federal Building
376 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Philadelphia Passport Agency
US Custom House
200 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106-2970
Region: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia
San Francisco Passport Agency
95 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-3901
Region: Arizona, California (all counties North of and including Monterey, Kings, Oulare, and Inyo), Nevada (except Clark Co.), & Utah
Seattle Passport Agency
Fifth and Yesler Building
300 5th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98174-1091
Region: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, & Wyoming
Washington, D.C. Passport Agency
600 19th Street, N.W.
First FLoor, Sidewalk Level
Washington, D.C. 20006
Region: Maryland, Northern Virginia (including Alexandria, Arlington County, and Fairfax County), and the District of Columbia
Special Issuance Agency
600 19th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Applications for Diplomatic, Official, and No-Fee passports
To find the closest passport acceptance facility to you, go to: http://visa.his.com
Should I Use an Expeditor?
If you are traveling to a country which requires a visa for entry and you are pressed for time, you may want to go through a visa or passport expeditor. The expeditor will go through the steps required to obtain the necessary documents with you, and submit them to the Embassy or Passport Office for you, sometimes even “walking” your documents to the appropriate office. There is, of course, a charge for these services.
Depending on your destination and time schedule, using an expeditor can be a wise decision. Despite the fact that you are paying for the service, often times the expeditors have negotiated a wholesale price, passing a discount along to you. Other times, particularly if you are not in a hurry, you’ll be better off going through the process yourself.
What are the Fees?
A reasonable expeditor will charge a fee of $85–$100 for passports processed within 9 days, and about $150 for those turned around within 3-8 days. This is in addition to the government fees, which are $135 for a new applicant, or $110 for a renewal. To have a visa expedited within 24 hours, you should expect to pay at least $200 to the expeditor. Shipping fees are additional; and many sites will give you a discount if you are processing a passport and a visa application, or more than one of either.
Most visa expeditors will charge a service fee of $30-$50 to process a tourist visa, and slightly more, around $50-$60, to process a business visa, for normal processing. If you want it sooner, you can expect to pay double. These fees come in addition to consulate and shipping fees. Consulate fees vary greatly depending on your destination. The most expensive visas are to Russia and the former Soviet Union, China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Keep in mind that for a fee of $60 (in addition to the $85 cost for obtaining, or $55 for renewing) the US Passport Service will process expedited passports within three working days.
Be sure to compare fees, to make sure you are getting the best deal. Some companies specialize in providing visas to certain countries, and will give you the best deal to those places in particular, but will have higher fees to other areas of the world.
Although many companies boast 24-hour service, be sure that it applies to you. Some expeditors require you to live in New York or Washington, D.C.
Also, be careful to fill out all forms correctly! If you fail to provide the necessary information (for example travel to some areas of the former Soviet Union still require an invitation), your visa or passport will be denied and you will still have to pay the expeditor.
Be aware of hidden fees. If you are requesting 24-hour service, and your documents must be walked to the agency, some companies will charge as much as $30 an hour for “waiting fee” if there is a delay at the office.
Passport & Visa Expeditors
Here are some of our recommendations for passport and visa expeditors:
3300 Fairfax Drive, #220
Arlington, VA 22201
A Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors
4301 Connecticut Ave., #250
Washington, D.C. 20008
A Rush Passport & Visa Services
3901 Danli Lane
Austin, Texas 78749-4932
American Passport Express
294 Washington St., Suite 407
Boston, MA 02108
5775 Blue Lagoon Drive
Miami, FL 33126
1731 21st St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Travisa at 800/222-2589