Applying for a passport should be as easy as signing on the dotted line. But with so many scenarios, from replacing chewed-up passports to expedited service, the process can be confounding. Here are some answers to common questions from travelers.
Q How much advance time do I need to apply for a passport?
AMonths before your departure date, and in some cases, even up to six months in advance, as some countries don't accept a freshly cut passport.
Can I apply by mail?
Not if you're a first-timer. Mail-ins are for renewals whose old passports are not damaged and were received within the past 15 years. The passport must also have been issued after your 16th birthday, and there must be no name change that you cannot legally prove.
To receive a new passport, send in a padded envelope a DS-82 form (available on the U.S. State Department's Web site or at post offices or travel agencies; see below); your most recent passport; two identical 2-by-2-inch passport photos; and a $55 check made out to the U.S. Department of State. If your name has changed, also include a certified copy of the legal document specifying the change (e.g., marriage license, adoption papers, etc.). Mail to: National Passport Center, P.O. Box 371971, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15250-9971.
You can also request a larger, 48-page passport for no extra fee; simply attach a signed request to your application. Your new passport should arrive within six weeks (for expedited service, see below). And yes, your dog-eared, stamp-plastered passport will be returned for future gloating purposes.
Who must apply in person, and what's the process?
Here's the checklist. If you answer yes to any of these, then head to your nearest passport facility.
You are a first-time applicant.