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The Passport Process USA Citizen

As a United States of America citizen, I recently experienced the process of getting a passport for my family. We are planning a future trip that requires the usage of passports, and so I ventured to learn more about how to get a passport, how long it takes to get one, the price involved, and how to handle getting one for your 16-year-old who is treated as an adult in passport terms.

Plus, it’s good to have a passport on hand, in my opinion. You never know when you might need it. It also is a fabulous form of identification for your teenagers who don’t have a driver’s license yet.

What is a Passport?

A passport is an essential document issued by a government that certifies the identity and nationality of its holder, primarily used for international travel. It includes vital information such as the bearer’s full name, date of birth, photograph, and often additional identifying details. As a universally recognized form of identification, a passport enables individuals to enter and exit foreign countries, and it often contains visas or other endorsements necessary for travel. Modern passports are equipped with advanced security features, including watermarks, holograms, and biometric data, to prevent forgery and identity theft.

Beyond its primary role in international travel, a passport serves multiple purposes. It stands as proof of citizenship, a crucial aspect of global diplomacy and international law. In times of distress abroad, a passport is a key to obtaining assistance from the holder’s embassy or consulate. The legal obligations accompanying a passport, such as adherence to the laws of visited countries, underscore its significance. With varying types and validity periods, passports are not just travel documents but symbols of a person’s nationality and a gateway to the world.

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Who needs a passport?

There are many reasons to get a passport, some of the most common reasons you may need to get a passport include:

  • International Travel: The most common reason to need a passport is for traveling abroad. A passport is required to enter and exit most countries. It serves as an official document recognized worldwide that verifies your identity and citizenship.
  • Visa Applications: When applying for a visa to visit certain countries, a passport is needed. The visa, which is a form of permission to enter a foreign nation, is typically stamped or attached to the passport.
  • International Flights and Transits: Even if you’re just passing through a country during a layover, a passport is often required for any international flight.
  • Employment Abroad: For working in a foreign country, a passport is necessary to prove your identity and to facilitate the issuance of a work permit or visa.
  • Studying Abroad: Students studying in foreign countries need passports to apply for student visas and to confirm their identity as international students.
  • Emergencies Abroad: If you need assistance from your country’s embassy or consulate while abroad, a passport is required to access services and prove your citizenship.
  • Identification Purposes: In some cases, a passport can serve as a form of identification, even domestically, especially when other forms of ID are not accepted or available.
  • Opening Bank Accounts or Conducting Financial Transactions Abroad: Some financial transactions or account openings in foreign countries require a passport for identification and verification of nationality.
  • Registering for Exams or International Conferences: Certain international exams or conferences might require a passport for registration or entry, especially when they involve participants from multiple countries.
  • Cruise Travel: For international cruises, a passport is typically required, especially when the cruise involves stops in different countries.
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Our Experience Getting Our Passports

Now that you know a little bit more about what a passport is, why you might need one, and all of that fun jazz, here is my story on how we handled getting a passport from start to beginning so that we can get our butts to another country for a fun-filled vacation meeting new people.

Age 16 is Considered an Adult

One of the most important lessons we learned when we ventured to the post office to get our passports, was that one of our sons was considered an adult at age 16. He needed to have what adults need for forms of ID rather than what a minor (someone under age 16) would need to get a passport.

He needed the same list of identification options that adults are required to have in order to get a passport, at least here in the USA as a citizen. These include:

  • Form DS-11
  • Complete online and print out single-sided.
  • You must provide a Social Security number if you have been issued one.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (original + 1 photocopy)
  • Valid ID (original + 1 photocopy)
  • One passport photo
  • White background /2″ × 2″ in size / no eyeglasses
  • Non-refundable application fee
  • Evidence of Change of Name (if applicable) – If your ID does not match your name on your proof of citizenship document, please bring proof of your name change. Documents must be original with English translation if applicable. (e.g. Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Statutory Declaration, or Court Order)
  • Applicants aged 16-17 should be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The accompanying adult must present government-issued photo identification.

Needless to say, our 16-year-old (at the time) didn’t have his driver’s license, he is waiting until he is 18, so he had no photo ID. We had to wait to get his passport until we could get him a non-driver ID here in NH. Which was about a week’s wait, so that’s not too bad. Just sharing this information, as you can save the wait by getting your 16+ year old a photo ID if they don’t have one before making a passport appointment.

What does a minor need for a Passport as a USA Citizen?

For a minor child (under the age of 16) to obtain a U.S. passport, there are specific requirements and documents needed as set by the U.S. Department of State. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Passport Application Form DS-11: The first step is to fill out Form DS-11, the application for a U.S. passport. This form should not be signed until instructed to do so by a passport acceptance agent.
  2. Proof of U.S. Citizenship: The child must provide evidence of U.S. citizenship. This can include a U.S. birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Certificate of Citizenship.
  3. Proof of Relationship to Parents/Guardians: To demonstrate the relationship between the child and the applying parent/guardian, documents such as a U.S. birth certificate (with parents’ names), a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (with parents’ names), an adoption decree, or a court order establishing custody/guardianship can be used.
  4. Parental Identification: The parent(s) or guardian(s) applying with the child must present identification, such as a U.S. passport, a valid driver’s license, or a government or military ID.
  5. Parental Consent: Both parents/guardians must give consent for the child to receive a passport. This is usually done by both appearing in person with the child when applying. If one parent/guardian cannot be there, they can provide a notarized Statement of Consent (Form DS-3053) or evidence of sole authority to apply.
  6. Passport Photo: A passport photo of the child must meet specific requirements—2 x 2 inches in size, taken within the last six months, showing the child’s full face against a white or off-white background.
  7. Applicable Fees: Payment for the passport fees must be made at the time of application. The fees vary depending on whether a passport book, a passport card, or both are being applied for.
  8. Application Submission in Person: Unlike adult renewals, applications for minors must be submitted in person at a passport acceptance facility, such as a post office, library, or county clerk office.
  9. Social Security Number: The child’s Social Security number (if they have one) must be provided on the application form.

It’s important to review the latest guidelines on the official U.S. Department of State website or contact a passport acceptance facility, as requirements and procedures can change. Additionally, special circumstances (like cases of single parents, parents with sole custody, etc.) may require additional documentation.

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Where to get photos for my passport?

Obtaining passport photos can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, especially if you’re not aware of all the options available or the specific requirements. Here are some tips and information to help you navigate this process more smoothly:

Where to Get Passport Photos

  1. Pharmacy Stores: Many chain pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid offer passport photo services. These stores are widespread, making them a convenient option.
  2. Warehouse Clubs: Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club also offer this service, often at a lower cost compared to other options.
  3. Shipping and Office Supply Stores: FedEx, UPS stores, and office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot often provide passport photo services.
  4. Photography Studios: Some professional photography studios offer passport photo services, ensuring high-quality photos but usually at a higher price.
  5. Online Services: There are online services where you can take a photo at home and upload it. They will check if it meets the requirements and print it for you.
  6. Automated Photo Booths: In some malls or train stations, you can find photo booths that offer passport photo services.

Passport Photo Requirements

  • Size: The photo must be 2 inches by 2 inches.
  • Color: Must be in color, not black and white.
  • Recent Photo: Should be taken within the last six months.
  • Background: Plain white or off-white background.
  • Head Size and Position: Your head should be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25-35mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • Facial Expression: Neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
  • Attire: Wear clothes you normally wear. No uniforms or camouflage attire. Glasses are not allowed unless they are needed for medical reasons (a doctor’s statement is required).
  • Lighting: Should be evenly lit, with no shadows or glare.

Tips for a Smooth Experience

  • Check the Requirements: Before going to get your photo taken, make sure you understand all the requirements. This reduces the risk of having to retake and pay for photos.
  • Avoid Last-Minute Rush: Try not to leave this task to the last minute, especially if you have an upcoming passport appointment.
  • Call Ahead: If you plan to get your photo taken at a location like a post office, call ahead to confirm that they offer this service. Not all post offices provide passport photo services.
  • Compare Prices: Prices can vary significantly between locations. Check a few places for the best deal.
  • Prepare the Kids: If getting photos for children, make sure they are well-rested and cooperative. Some places are more experienced in taking photos of children.
  • Dress Appropriately: Although there aren’t strict dress code requirements, it’s advisable to avoid white or very light shirts to provide contrast with the background.
  • Hair and Makeup: Natural and usual styles are recommended. Avoid heavy makeup or hairstyles that cover the face.

I was told to not smile, so my photo on my passport makes me look miserable. A polar opposite of my smiley driver’s license photo. It is what it is. Our youngest son looks pretty freaking happy in his passport photo, lucky duck!

When we went to get our passports, we originally scheduled it through the post office website. We checked to have them take our photo. Sadly, about 2 hours before our appointment we had a call saying that their passport photo machine is broken. Reminded me of how the McDonald’s ice cream maker is always “broken”. *giggle*

So we had to go to the local CVS to get our photos, pay for them, and bring them with us. The whole process of getting our passport photos at CVS was quick and easy, to be honest. Remember, a passport photo is a crucial part of your application, and any errors can delay the processing of your passport. Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to ensure it’s done right.

How much does a passport cost?

The price of the passports is what kept me reluctant to get them. They are pretty expensive when you’re looking to buy them for FOUR people. As of right now, the prices look to be around $130 for a passport book, per person. Then you could opt to get the card, which is useful for US citizens who may go to Mexico or Canada a lot.

For now, we opted to go with the passport book for our international travel. Maybe we will get a card later on for other travel plans. This means we paid around $520 never mind the cost of the photos. I do not remember how much the photos cost, but you can easily call your local area or look on the USPS website if you’re going there to see what they charge extra for passport photos.

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Final Thoughts

Getting our passports was a fun experience! I was so nervous going into this and knew that the wait time here is about 13 weeks to receive your passport (if there are no issues). You can expedite the process, however, you typically have to know all of your travel details in order to do that. We didn’t have that information at the time.

As part of our plan to travel, we needed to take this first step, getting the boys and us a passport. Now that we have it? The sky is the limit, friends. I can’t wait to share our travels with you. I am just over here working hard and manifesting our future trip plans.

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