How to apply for a passport

May 6, 2011

When do I need to carry a passport?

Basically for all foreign travel, with a few caveats. Since 2009, the United States has required Americans to carry a passport or an accepted alternative when traveling to Bermuda, Mexico, Canada and 17 Caribbean nations. U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are exempt, as are cruises that begin and end in U.S. ports.

Children younger than 16 traveling to the above destinations by land or sea can still use their U.S. birth certificate (original or copy) or another proof of citizenship to reenter the States. Also, U.S. passport cards valid for sea and land crossings (note: not air) are acceptable for travelers of all ages. Cost is $55 for first-time adult passport applicants, $40 for those younger than 16 and $30 for valid passport holders. For application info, go to travel.state.gov/passport .

Acceptable alternative documents include Trusted Traveler Cards (i.e., Fast Cards), U.S. Military ID with travel orders, and Native American photo ID cards.

How much advance time do I need to apply for a passport?

It can never be too soon. If your passport is nearing its expiration date, renew as soon as possible, because some countries require passports to be valid for six months after a traveler’s entry or return date. Passports issued to travelers 15 and younger are valid for five years, twice that for those 16 and older.

Can I apply by mail?

Not if you’re a first-timer. Mail-ins are for renewers whose old passports were issued within the past 15 years and haven’t been damaged or stolen or haven’t expired. The passport also must have been issued after your 16th birthday, and there must be no name change for which you do not have legal proof.

To renew a passport, place a DS-82 application form (available on the State Department Web site, at post offices and at travel agencies), your most recent passport, one 2-by-2-inch photo and a check for $110 made out to the U.S. Department of State in a padded envelope. If your name has changed, also include a certified copy of the legal document specifying the change (e.g., marriage license, court decree, etc.).

Mail to National Passport Processing, P.O. Box 13408, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101-3408. If you use a mail service that doesn’t deliver to post office boxes, send to National Passport Processing, Attn: Department 13349, 1617 Brett Rd., New Castle, Del. 19720.

Your new passport (along with your old one) should arrive within four to six weeks.

Who must apply in person, and what is the process?

You must apply in person if:

-You’re a first-time applicant.

-Your passport was lost, stolen or damaged. (If lost or stolen, you must also complete form DS-64.)

-Your old passport expired and was issued more than 15 years ago or before you turned 16.

-Your name has changed since your last passport was issued and you have no documentation reflecting the change.

-You’re 14 to 17 years old. A parent or legal guardian (with his or her own ID) must be present if you do not have acceptable identification. Parental consent also may be requested. For children younger than 16, consent and/or appearance by both parents or legal guardians is required, as is proof of relationship (e.g., their names on the child’s certified birth certificate).

And yes, even newborns and toddlers need a passport and must be present when their parents apply on their behalf.

Application materials include Form DS-11 (but don’t sign it until the passport official gives the word); proof of U.S. citizenship, such as an original or certified birth certificate; personal ID, such as a valid driver’s license or military ID; one 2-by-2-inch passport photo taken in the past six months; and $135 (16 and older) or $105 (younger than 16). Note: A law passed in April requires the full names of the applicants’ parents to be listed on the certified birth certificate.

Where do I apply in person?

There are more than 9,000 passport acceptance facilities nationwide, including many federal and state courts, post offices, public libraries, and county and city offices. See the State Web site (iafdb.travel.state.gov) for local outposts. In the District, for example, the post offices at 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and 3430 Connecticut Ave. NW provide such services, but only during specific hours or by appointment, so check ahead.

What if my passport is running out of pages?

If you’re down to two to four visa pages, you need to fatten up your book. Send your passport, DS-4085 form and $82 to: National Passport Processing Center, P.O. Box 90106, Philadelphia, Pa., 19190-0106.

I’m in a hurry — my trip is in a few weeks!

For expedited service by mail, send in the requisite materials plus an additional $60 and overnight delivery costs. Write “Expedite” on the envelope and put the departure date on your application. To ensure timely delivery — two or three weeks door-to-door — splurge on two-way overnight delivery.

If you’re leaving in two weeks or sooner, make an appointment with a Regional Passport Agency. In Washington, the center, at 1111 19th St. NW, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Schedule an appointment at 877-487-2778.

For even faster — but costlier — service, use a private company. For instance, American Passport and Visa International (866-848-2784, www.apvi.net) offers 24-hour service for $199 plus government fees; for delivery within six to nine business days, the price is $75 plus fees. Other companies include A Briggs (800-806-0581, www.abriggs.com) and RushMyPassport.com (877-503-9838), among many others.

Where can I find official passport information?

On the State Department Web site, travel.state.gov/passport.

For a status report on your application, contact the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 or check online at travel.state.gov/passport/status/status_2567.html. Within five to seven days, the site will let you know whether your application has been received and about when to expect your ticket to roam the world.

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