Any U.S. citizen traveling out of the country will need a passport. This is a legal document proving citizenship in a particular country. Most include the bearer’s photograph, vital statistics and several blank pages for stamps from countries granting entry. It's usually not hard to get a passport, but there is a process involved.
The first thing a person needs to do is to make sure he has a driver’s license and birth certificate handy. The U.S. State Department’s website has a form available online for the person to fill out in advance, but this should not be signed until an agent approves the application. All first-time applicants must apply in person, and this can usually be done at a post office or circuit court clerk’s office at the county courthouse.
Applicants also need to bring two 2 by 2 inch (5.08 by 5.08 cm) color photographs. These can be made by a professional photographer, or where passport photos are made. The applicant will show the agent all identification, the photographs and completed application. When the application is approved, the agent and applicant will sign the form, and the applicant will pay a fee. The application will be filed, and the applicant will receive the passport in the mail in six weeks to six months.
Those needing a passport more urgently can pay a larger fee to expedite the process, but it is always best to apply as soon as you knows one is going out of the country. An applicant may also contact his or her local U.S. Congressional representative if the process seems to be taking an unusually long time. This can also expedite the process.
Passports are good for 15 years, and it may be renewed by mail. In this case, the applicant needs to fill out another form, enclose it, the fee, two more recent photographs and the old passport, and send the package to the processing center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The State Department Web site has a wealth of information regarding the application process, what to do if one is a naturalized citizen, has no birth certificate or other contingencies.