How to get a passport: A quick guide

If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve got travel plans on the horizon—for business, pleasure or both. Applications for passports have been on the rise, rebounding from 11.7 million in 2020 to 15.4 million in 2021. 

Whether you need your first U.S. passport—or want to renew one that’s about to expire—here’s what you need to know.

Key takeaways

  • Getting a passport can be pretty straightforward—but be sure to build in at about 12 weeks to get it before your departure date.
  • You can find passport application forms online. 
  • If you’re applying for a first-time passport, you’ll need to bring your application to a government processing center. But passport renewals can generally be handled through the mail.
  • If you’re pressed for time, the government offers some options to help expedite applications.

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Why you might need a passport

If you plan to travel internationally from the U.S., you’ll need a passport. A passport can also give you an easy way to prove your U.S. citizenship since it’s a widely accepted form of government-issued ID.

Even if you don’t have upcoming travel plans, having a valid passport on hand can be a good idea. It can help make things less stressful, for example, if you need to travel unexpectedly for work or family situations. 

A passport can also be used as a form of identification—like for getting a driver’s license or opening a bank account. 

Where do I go to get a passport?

When it comes to getting a passport, you might wonder how much you can accomplish online. 

The answer is mixed. Some tasks can be handled online, some need to be taken care of in person and some can be done by mail.

You can go online to print the forms you’ll need for first-time applications and renewals. You can also find other forms for special situations like correcting information in your passport or reporting that it's been lost or stolen. 

If you’re ready to apply for a first-time passport, you’ll need to take your forms to a passport acceptance facility—they can include post offices, public libraries and municipal government offices. You can find your nearest passport acceptance facility on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

When should you renew your passport? It’s recommended that you renew well ahead of any international travel you may have planned—even if your passport will still be valid for a few months.  

You can generally renew your passport by mail. But if one or more of the following situations apply, you’ll need to visit a passport acceptance facility:

  • You’re under age 16.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen or damaged.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago.

You can check out more details about getting a first-time passport or renewing an expired one on the State Department’s website.

Information and citizenship documents you’ll need to get a passport

Ready for your first passport? You'll need certain documents—including proof that you’re a U.S. citizen.

Before you start the process, it can help to have a few things on hand:

  • Passport application form: You can print the form from the State Department’s website.
  • Proof of citizenship: An undamaged U.S. passport—it can be expired—is one option. Others include a U.S. birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, certificate of naturalization, and consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth. 
  • Personal identification: Options include a current or expired passport, fully valid driver’s license, government employee ID, military ID and more.
  • Current photo: Your photo will need to meet certain requirements. You might be able to get photos taken at a passport acceptance facility for an additional fee.

Need to renew your passport? If so, the only document you need to accompany your application is your expired passport.

Passport application fees 

The cost for a new or renewed U.S. passport varies based on a number of factors. One of those factors is  whether you want a passport book or passport card. You’ll learn more below about why you might choose one over the other.

Here are the charges for passport books, cards and renewals:

  • Passport books for first-time applicants: For people 16 and over, a passport book costs $130, plus a $35 execution fee. For children under 16, the charge is $100 plus the $35 fee. 
  • Passport cards for first-time applicants: For people 16 and older, a passport card costs $30 plus a $35 execution fee. For children under 16, the charge is $15 plus the $35 fee. 
  • Passport renewals: Renewing a passport—which can generally be done by mail—costs $130 for a passport book and $30 for a passport card. The $35 execution fee doesn’t apply to passport renewals.

If you need to correct or change your name on your passport, fees can differ depending on your circumstances. There’s no fee for a name change if it's been less than one year since your passport was issued.

If you use a company that provides passport services, your costs will likely be higher.

A photo of an application for a U.S. passport—depending on your situation, you can apply for a U.S. passport book or card—or both.

Depending on your situation, you can apply for a U.S. passport book or card—or both.

Passport books and cards explained
Passport books and passport cards both serve as proof of your U.S. citizenship and identity. Which do you need? That depends on your travel plans.

  • Passport books are required for traveling internationally by air, sea or land. 
  • Passport cards can’t be used for international air travel. But you can use a card if you’re entering or exiting the U.S. at land border crossings and seaports of entry with Canada, Mexico, Caribbean countries and Bermuda.

How long does it take to get a passport?

Standard processing time to get a passport is 7-10 weeks, plus shipping time. The time frame can fluctuate according to application volume and other factors, so it may be wise to get your passport several months before your departure date. 

You can track your application status through the U.S. Department of State’s website. 

The State Department also offers life-or-death and emergency travel services. These services can help you travel internationally within 3 business days if an immediate family member has died, is in hospice care or has a life-threatening injury or illness. You’ll need to visit a government passport agency near you to arrange for emergency travel services. 

How to get a passport fast
The U.S. Department of State offers expedited processing of passports for an additional $60 fee. That reduces the processing time from about 7-10 weeks to about 4-6 weeks. Applicants can also pay an extra $18.32 for 1- to 2-day delivery. 

Are passport expeditors worth it?
You may come across companies calling themselves passport expeditors or passport couriers. These businesses don’t operate within the Department of State. And if you’re considering using one, it might be worth reviewing what the State Department has to say about them.

The agency makes it clear that these companies will not be able to help you “receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person,” which might still be required depending on your application. The companies also charge additional fees.

You can read more about passport couriers and expeditors on the State Department’s website.

How to apply for a passport in a nutshell

Applying for a passport can be a fairly straightforward process, especially if you have all the documents needed to apply. Just follow the steps and leave yourself plenty of time—and you can generally expect to have a passport in hand for your travel needs.

If you need to get a passport quickly, you could always consider expediting your passport through the U.S. Department of State. 

When you’re making your plans, you might want to think about how you’ll pay for travel to your destination and for expenses while you’re there. Having a credit card that’s well-suited for travelers can be a good idea. You can compare Capital One travel credit cards to learn more about earning rewards for your next trip.

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