What to Expect: Applying for Passports in the United States

My family and I travel while I run my company Purveyor of Geekery

What to expect from passport applications

Travel documents are a requirement  for United States citizens. Whether you need a Passport book or Passport card, the application process for both is pretty much the same. The major difference will be the cost.

Do I need a Passport book or a Passport card?

Passport cards can be used by American citizens for crossing into Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or the Bahamas by land (where applicable, obviously) or sea…at least at the time of this writing. You know how Homeland Security changes things on a daily basis. As with any information you find on the web, double check that it is still correct via the first source, in this case United State’s Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs website addressing the differences between the two.

If you are doing ANY international air travel, you will need a Passport Book. A card won’t cut it. Even if you are initially driving in to or sailing into a country, then flying back to the states on your return you’ll need a Passport Book.

So cards are good for things like cruises or if you live near the border and cross over on occasion if you want to save some money (cards are about 2/5th’s the price of Passport books) otherwise a Passport Book is the way to go. If you conceivably might do any international air travel in the next 10 years (or your kids might in the next 5) save the extra work involved and invest in the Passport Books.

Do my kids need passport books or passport cards?

The same rules apply for your children as they do for you. Your newborn will need a passport. We had to have one for O when we traveled abroad with him the first time at 6 months.

What paperwork is involved in filing for Passport books or cards?

You can find the details of the paperwork that you will need to fill out here, and the documentation that you will need to submit here. The form that you’ll need to fill out is very official with five pages of instructions buy it basically just ask the basics like your name, address, height, weight, date of birth, social security information, parent and emergency contact information…etc. Fill it out before hand but DO NOT SIGN IT until you are physically in front of the person who will be processing the application. They will need to witness you signing it. So don’t do it, or you’ll have to fill it all out again. It’s clearly marked on the form though, so it’s unlikely you’ll sign by mistake. 

You’ll also need to give them your OFFICIAL Evidence of US Citizenship, like a Birth Certificate, NOT just a copy. Yes, you’ll LEAVE THESE with your application and they will mail them back to you later, so plan applying around a 6-8 week period that you won’t need it for anything like starting a new job or school.

Here’s the part that gave me a heart attack when I received my passport sans certificate: they send them back separately in order to protect your identity. A passport AND a Birth Certificate all in one package is like Christmas for identity thieves.

How do we get photos for the passport?

I Heart Family Travels has covered that in a few other articles:

Where do I turn in the application for the passport?

You can apply for passport books and cards locally, and can find a list of office locations here. You can go to either an Acceptance Facility or the Passport Agency, but most times the Acceptance Facility will be closer. Our Acceptance Facility is in the county courthouse 20 minutes away where as out closest Passport Agency is in Miami…3 hours away. Both will accept expedited passport applications. My husband and I ended up in the same office that we filed for our marriage license through.

Do not take your firearms or any weapons into an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency. Do not take any toys that look like weapons. Yes, I know you have concealed weapons license but you won’t be able to bring it in and if you do it’s a federal offense (fines and prison anyone?). You more than likely will have to go through a metal detector when you arrive (not a backscatter, just the normal “take off your belt or beep” kind) and you don’t want to spend the next 5 years in prison for forgetting. Also… parking. Parking lots are considered Federal property as well so don’t forget to remove your guns from your cars. Good ol’ USA.

Special notes on payments?

When you go to an Acceptance Facility as opposed to the Passport Agency, you’ll want to make sure that you have your application fee and execution fee (found here on the fees table) in two separate forms of payment. The reason for this is that they send the Application Fee, which must be paid by a personal checks, a money order or a bank draft, in with your application to the Department of State while retaining the Execution Fee locally for the privilege of doing business with you…it’s their processing fee. 🙂 No credit cards for this. Passport processing is strictly 1980 style tech, cash is not advised.

I travel in a few days, can I still get a Passport?

Expedited passport applications are their own sort of special. You can find more information on Expedited Passports here. Note that the process requires more expense and that you may have to provide proof of travel depending on where you go to have your application processed. It is advised to call ahead and confirm what is needed.

Once you’ve applied the only thing left to do is to sit back and wait for their arrival. It will take about 6 weeks depending on the time of year. In the mean time, you can shop for awesome new passport covers! And remember, your passport and birth certificate will be mailed separately to you, don’t freak out.

What was your process like when you went to apply for your passport? Share your experience in the comments so that other readers know what to expect.

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My family and I travel while I run my company Purveyor of Geekery

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