Passports 101

The process of obtaining, renewing, or updating a passport is exactly what one would expect when working with a government agency: tedious, mind-numbing, and overly complex. While you’ll find everything you need to know about the often befuddling process on the U.S. State Department website, I thought I might be able to simply the research.

Getting your first passport

To get your first passport, you’ll have to show up in person. You can go to any town/city hall or post office in your state.  You do not need to go to the town hall or post office in your hometown. If you live in a big city and the parking is a bitch, then I would definitely find someplace in a town on the outskirts.  More than likely, they’ll even have days where they stay open later on a night during the week so you can go after work. Many post offices and even some public libraries can accept passport applications but I would call ahead to be sure.

The form that you will need to complete can be found at

When you’re ready be sure to have with you:

• Your filled-in DS-11 application form.

• Valid identification.

• Your original birth certificate as well as a copy of it.  Your original birth certificate will be submitted with your application so you will be without it for a week or so.  They will mail it back to you.

• Your application fee. For a first-time adult passport, the total fee is $135.  Bring you checkbook as the payment is split in two.  The federal government gets their share and then your city/town gets their share.

• Passport photos.  Most major drug stores, such as CVS or Walgreens, will sell appropriately sized passport photos that comply with government standards; this makes things a little easier.  If you have a premium membership with AAA; you can get them for free.

Your passport is valid for 10 years for adults and 5 years for children.  Children’s passport rates are less money than adults.

Renewing a passport

You can apply through the mail as long as your most recent passport is undamaged, was issued when you were at least 16 years old, and isn’t more than 15 years old. If you are nodding “yes” to all of that, simply mail in your old passport with the required documents and photos, and you’ll receive a new one in the mail in roughly four to six weeks. (Don’t worry. You’ll get your old passport back.) Here’s what you need: Form DS-82, your renewal fee ($110 for an adult), passport photos, and your old passport. Get more information about renewing a passport through the link I posted above.

Keep in mind that if you’ve changed your name since your last passport was issued, include an original certificate or court order that documents this; those without such papers must apply for a renewal in person.

Since the US has now made it mandatory for all citizens to have a passport in order to visit another country; many sites have popped up to expedite the processing of your passport and get them to you quicker.  There is, of course, a fee.  My advice; get your passport immediately if you are even thinking about traveling.   I’ve found that during the regular process that it’s only taking 3 – 4 weeks.

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