How to Apply for a U.S. Passport (DS-11) for the First Time

Citizenship Travel Documents

Persons Who Apply for a U.S. Passport the First Time

An American passport is one of the tremendous benefits of U.S. citizenship. It’s affordable, practical proof of your U.S. citizenship and generally more useful than a Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization. With a passport from the United States, a traveler can visit more than 185 countries without a visa and obtain help from the local U.S. embassy during times of trouble. Once you’ve become a citizen, you’ll need to apply for a U.S. passport.

As a first-time applicant for a U.S. passport, you will need to apply in person. In fact, you must apply in person if at least one of the following statements is true:

  • You are applying for your first U.S. passport.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • You are under age 16.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago.

Again, if any of the above statements is true, you will not be able to apply for a U.S. passport by mail or online. You must apply in person at designated locations.

Steps to Apply for a U.S. Passport

Applying for a U.S. passport is relatively easy. If you recently naturalized as a U.S. citizen, you’ll be happy to know that passport applications are easier to prepare, quicker to process, and less expensive than the naturalization process.

STEP
1
Prepare Form DS-11

To apply, use the U.S. Department of State’s Form DS-11 found on the DOS website. There are other versions of the passport application for renewal applicants or corrections. Make sure you are using DS-11. It is the appropriate way to apply for a U.S. passport for the first time.

STEP
2
Gather Evidence of U.S. Citizenship

When applying for the first time, passport applicants must submit an original or certified, physical copy of one of the following documents:

A certified copy is any document that has the seal or stamp of the official issuing authority. If you have lost this document, please see Replacing Citizenship Documents below. If you never received a citizenship document but believe that you are a U.S. citizen through a parent, you will likely need to make a claim to your citizenship and request a Certificate of Citizenship.

RECOMMENDED: Acquisition of Citizenship for Children Born Outside the United States

You must also submit a photocopy of the front and back of the U.S. citizenship document that you provide. Photocopies should be clear, black-and-white reproductions on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Use single-sided paper.

STEP
3
Gather ID Document

You must present one of the following government-issued photo identification documents to the acceptance agent.

  • In-state, fully valid driver’s license or enhanced driver’s license with photo
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Government employee ID (city, county, state, or federal)
  • U.S. military or military dependent ID
  • Current (valid) foreign passport
  • Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular ID)
  • U.S. Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
  • Trusted Traveler IDs (including valid Global Entry, FAST, SENTRI, and NEXUS cards)
  • Enhanced Tribal Cards and Native American tribal photo IDs

You may be able to use other documents such as an in-state, fully valid learner’s permit with photo; in-state, fully valid non-driver ID with photo; or a temporary driver’s license with photo. However, you may be asked to present an additional ID when presenting one of these three documents.

You must also submit a photocopy of the front and back of the identification document that you provide. Photocopies should be clear, black-and-white reproductions on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Use single-sided paper.

STEP
4
Obtain a Photo

You must submit one passport-style color photograph of yourself taken within six months of submitting the DS-11 application. The color photo should:

  • Be 2” x 2” in size
  • Have head height of 1” to 1 3/8” from top of hair to bottom of chin
  • Have eye height between 1 1/8” to 1 3/8” from bottom of photo
  • Have bare head unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order of which you are a member (face must be visible)
  • Have a white to off-white background
  • Be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish
  • Not be mounted or retouched

We recommend that you use a vendor that is trained to provide passport-style photographs. Many retail drug stores provide this service at a low cost. You may also want to review the U.S. Department of State’s guidelines for passport photos.

STEP
5
Determine Your U.S. Passport Fees

As of July 2020, adult applicants (age 16 and older) will pay an application fee of $110 for a standard passport book plus an execution fee of $35. The application fee and execution fee are generally paid separately. Passport cards and applicants under age 16 have different pricing.

For information on forms of payment and a full list of fees, view the State Department’s Passport Fees page.

STEP
6
Submit the DS-11

Finally, you may apply for a U.S. passport in-person. If you are inside the United States, you may submit the DS-11 plus supporting documents and fees at a passport acceptance facility. These facilities are generally U.S. post offices, public libraries and other public locations.

If possible, make an appointment at your selected acceptance facility. Call the passport acceptance facility ahead of time to verify their hours, acceptable forms of payment, and appointment requirements.

If you are outside the United States, may apply for a U.S. passport using Form DS-11 at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Each location’s guidelines and hours may vary. Contact that individual consulate for the appropriate directions.

Replacing Citizenship Documents

As indicated above, you’ll need original or certified physical proof of citizenship to apply for a U.S. passport. If you’ve lost the citizenship document, you’ll need to replace it before you may get a U.S. passport. If you never had a citizenship document, you may need to apply for an initial document.

U.S. Birth Certificate

U.S.-born individuals may generally contact the county or local government where the birth occurred. A local government agency (such as the county clerk) will have a process to replace a birth certificate. Fees and processing times vary by agency.

Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth

Generally, a consular report of birth abroad must be obtained soon after the child’s birth. There is a process to replace a CRBA. The cost is $50, and the process may take 4-8 weeks.

Certificate of Naturalization

You must file Form N-565, Application to Replace Citizenship Document, with USCIS. The filing fee is $555 and processing times are usually 6-12 months. CitizenPath provides an N-565 preparation service (at an additional fee) to ensure your application is prepared correctly.

Certificate of Citizenship

You must file Form N-565, Application to Replace Citizenship Document, with USCIS. The filing fee is $555 and processing times are usually 6-12 months. CitizenPath provides an N-565 preparation service (at an additional fee) to ensure your application is prepared correctly.

RECOMMENDED: Replacement Process for Citizenship Certificates and Naturalization Certificates

Apply for a U.S. Passport for a Child

U.S. passports for children (under the age of 18) have special requirements. All children under age 16 must apply for a U.S. passport in person with two parents or guardians using Form DS-11.

Children Under Age 16

Form DS-11 ApplicationWhen submitting Form DS-11, both parents/guardians must authorize the issuance of the child’s passport and show proof of the parental relationship. The best way to do this is for both parents/guardians to go with the child in person to apply for the passport. In situations where both parents cannot attend, there are well-defined rules for providing authorization.

Additionally, the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) must present a government-issued photo ID AND submit documentation that lists the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of the child applying for a passport. Prove a parental relationship with one of the following documents:

  • U.S. birth certificate
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
  • Foreign birth certificate
  • Adoption decree
  • Divorce/Custody decree

In summary, parent(s) or guardian(s) must prove three things when the child under age 16 applies for a U.S. passport: (1) identity of both parent(s) or guardian(s); (2) proof of parental relationship; and (3) parental consent.

Children Age 16 or 17

The requirements for children ages 16 and 17 to apply for a passport are less restrictive. At least one parent or guardian must present a government-issued photo ID and show parent awareness.

us passport cardGenerally, it is best if the parent or legal guardian can appear with the child applicant when he or she submits Form DS-11. The agent or employee accepting the application will ask the parent or legal guardian to sign Form DS-11. Alternatively, the child applicant may submit DS-11 with a signed, notarized statement consenting to issuance of a passport from at least one parent or legal guardian. The statement should be accompanied by a photocopy of that parent or guardian’s ID.

The State Department may deny a child’s passport application if they receive written objection from one of the parents or legal guardians. Learn more about Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.

Processing Times

Generally, the DS-11 processing time is about 4 to 6 weeks. For applicants with more immediate travel plans, expedited services are available for an additional fee. The passport processing time can be reduced to as little as 1 to 2 days.

During the initial phases of the COVID-19 recovery, the State Department has suspended most expedited processing. During phase one of the three-phase reopening plan, they will only expedite DS-11 processing for travelers with a life-or-death emergency. These applications will be processed within 72 hours.

Online Passport Application

At this time, the U.S. Department of State does not have a way to apply for a U.S. passport online. All passport applications must be printed out, signed, and submitted with original documents to the U.S. Department of State for passport processing.

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Passport Renewal

Once you’ve received your initial U.S. passport, you may generally renew by mail. You’ll find the process quicker and easier. You may also use a different application, Form DS-82. In order to renew a U.S. passport by mail, all of the following statements must be true about your existing passport:

  • Is in your possession to submit with your application
  • Was issued in your current name or you can document your name change
  • Is undamaged (other than normal wear and tear)
  • Was issued when you were age 16 or older
  • Was issued within the last 15 years

If any of the above statements are not true, you’ll need to use Form DS-11 and apply for a U.S. passport in person.

About CitizenPath

CitizenPath provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application or petition. We provide support for the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), Application for Replacement Citizenship Document (Form N-565), Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600), and several other immigration services.

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