How do I get a Passport?

A Kaminsky

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.

A diplomatic passport.
A diplomatic passport.

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.

Post offices often issue passports.
Post offices often issue passports.

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.

The US passport processing center is located in Philadelphia.
The US passport processing center is located in Philadelphia.

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 required for any planned international vacations.
Passports are required for any planned international vacations.

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.

A birth certificate is required when applying for a passport.
A birth certificate is required when applying for a passport.

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Discussion Comments


I realized my passport had expired two days before my trip to London. After going into panic mode, I searched the web to see who could expedite my passport in time. It was 7 p.m. EST and every company I called had an automated message.

I called one company and spoke with a live rep. Imagine my shock. The lady reassured me that they could have my passport on time for my trip.

She directed me step by step over the phone, and sure enough I had my passport the night before my trip. I had my new passport in my hands exactly 24 hours after my initial call.

-Stefani from Wisconsin


On my recent visit to China a fellow traveler put his passport into his luggage. Not a good idea, because when he needed it, the luggage was already at a different location, and this created delays and inconvenience for many people.

There are a few tips to remember when traveling abroad. Since passport shows our identity, it is extremely important to keep it safe and secure.

I make several copies of my passport. I leave a copy at home and put another copy in a different place, separate from the original.

The original I keep on my body away from things that I need often, like money or credit card. Some go as far as suggesting to take along 2 passport photos in case the passport is lost or stolen.

The process of getting a new document would be expedited this way. Also it is suggested to memorize the passport number, in case all of the above precautions fail .

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