How To Get A U.S. Passport

If you’re interested in studying abroad, touring another country or joining one of our healing tours – you’re going to need a passport. Laws keep changing too, and it looks like soon, you won’t be able to leave the country at all without a US Passport (even to Mexico or Canada.) If you’re not sure how to get a passport, or where to start – here’s an easy guide. (This advice is for those who are over age 16 and have NEVER had a passport before; other guidelines apply to those with lost, renewed or minor (under age 16) passports.)

Guide for Getting a U.S. Passport

A US Passport is a document that stands among your birth certificate and Social Security card in regards to importance. Your passport states that you are a US citizen, and it is your “ticket” for crossing into foreign soil … and getting home.

Applying for a Passport

The first step – you have to apply for a passport. As a first-time applicant, you’ll need to apply for your passport in person. You’ll need to fill out a DS-11 form in order to receive a passport. You can get one of these forms at places like the post office, or you can also download the DS-11 form online to complete. This form will ask you questions like your name, address, height/weight, marital status, emergency contact, etc. You MUST include your Social Security number when completing the form; this is not optional.

The DS-11 form will also have a list of items you’ll need to submit when you turn in your completed application. As you fill out your information, start searching for the documents of identification that you’ll need.

Getting your Passport Photo

Your passport photo must be submitted with your DS-11 form. There are strict requirements for this photo. This photo will be stapled to your DS-11 form (it even tells you where to place the staples; look closely.) Several locations can take your passport photo. Some include: Walgreens, CVS, the USPS, Fed-Ex locations and more. You can also take your photo yourself, but make sure you follow the exact guidelines (from

  • In color
  • Printed on photo quality paper
  • 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size
  • Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (between 25 and 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
  • Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
  • Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
  • With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
  • Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis

Documents to Submit with your Passport Application

To verify your identity, you’ll need to submit several documents when you turn in your DS-11 form. These documents will only be used at the time of application, they will not keep them (except for the photocopied ID).  Those include:

  • certified birth certificate (if you weren’t born in the US, you’ll need some additional citizenship documents)
  • driver’s license (or a government ID if you have one)
  • a photocopy of the front & back of your ID on 8.5 x 11 white sheet of paper (the copy of the front & back of your ID need to be on the same side of the paper – no double-sided copies. Put it on 2 different papers and staple if you can’t do that.)

Where to Turn In your Passport Application

Because you’re a first-time applicant, you’ll need to submit all of these documents in person. The best place to take your completed passport application is the post office or civic center. To find the closest place near you, use the Passport Acceptance Facility finder. At this time, you’ll also need to pay the fee. Double-check the form to see your fee, they change per year. As of December 2011, the fee is around $135 for a passport book, and an additional  $55 if you want a Passport Card. The card can fit in your wallet and be used if you travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda frequently. For those who travel with our study abroad programs, we recommend getting the passport book.

Average wait times will vary depending on when you apply (weeks before Spring Break tends to be quite busy.) Typically it takes an average of 4-6 weeks to process; you can pay an expedite fee and get it in 2-3 weeks.


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Filed under Study Abroad, Traveling Abroad

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