How To Get a Passport

How To Get a Passport
Image Credit: Photo illustration by Jason Newman / [email protected]
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My name was spelled wrong!

I was shocked.  My first US Passport arrived in the mail and my last name was misspelled. It appeared to be a simple clerical error. But would it still work?

I wasn’t sure.

With a pre-paid honeymoon to the Caribbean less than two weeks away, I couldn’t take any chances. I contacted the Passport office and explained the mistake. Luckily, they did fix it in time.

Mistakes do happen. That’s why applying for a Passport well in advance can really prevent a big headache for travelers.  

MORE: Clark Howard’s Travel Planning Guide

Even for those without travel plans in the near future, a current Passport can still come in handy. For example, I’ve used it as my primary photo ID after misplacing my driver’s license once or twice.

Where to begin

For new applications, be prepared to make a trip to a nearby Passport Acceptance Facility (search for one in your area) and be sure to take the following things with you:

6 things you need to get a Passport

1. Primary identification

Most use a valid driver’s license as proof.


2. Photocopy of primary identification

In order to process the application, present a copy of the primary identification being used (both sides).

3. Evidence of US Citizenship

Most use a certified birth certificate as proof. Make sure it has that raised seal. The office will not accept photocopies or just notarized copies as proof.  To find these records, contact the local government in the area where you were born. 

4. One Passport photo

A photo is required to get a Passport. Your local photo print lab likely will take it for a few bucks. Some passport acceptance facilities also will provide photo service on-site.

Yes, you can take your own photo — but  you must follow some key instructions in order for it to be accepted.

Passport photo requirements:

  • In color
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • 2 x 2 inches 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. View the Photo Composition Template for more size requirement details.
  • 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
  • Taken with a neutral facial expression (preferred) or a natural smile, and with both eyes open (source:

5. Payment

For first-time adult applicants, expect to pay $135 for a Passport Book. Personal checks, money orders and bank drafts are accepted. Exact cash is okay at some locations. (Also, the execution fee is paid separately. So, two checks are required.)


6. DS-11 Passport application

This application can be filled out ahead of time online. When finished, print it and bring it with you to the acceptance facility. Be sure NOT to sign this document until a processing agent asks you to.

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When it will arrive:

Most first-time applicants will receive a Passport by mail within 6-8 weeks after submitting all the paperwork. (If you are in a rush, request expedited service.)

You can check the status online by visiting the Secretary of State website at

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