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Quick and Painless Passports

Today (well, Friday), my mom and I went to apply for her first passport. The only traveling outside of the US she had done in the past was to Canada, which formerly only required a driver’s license. I’ve had a passport since I was a minor, and was able to renew my passport as an adult since my former passport was less than 15 years old, so I was unfamiliar with the process for applying. To assist my mom, and so I’d know what to expect, I started reading up on all the current requirements on the Department of State’s website. A few things I learned today I thought I’d pass on to you, some of which are not on the DOS webpage:

1. Make sure you have a valid birth certificate. Your birth certificate needs to have a raised seal on it and most likely comes from your state’s department of health. If you do not have a certified copy, you’ll need to get one. It will cost about US$10 (fee varies by state), and might require you to drive to an office to apply in person. We went to Harrisburg last year to get a certified copy of my mom’s birth certificate. It took us about an hour between filling out the form and waiting for it to be processed. (please note: this only refers to US citizens born in the United States. For details on how to apply as a naturalized citizen, you will need to check the Department of State website.)

2. Get your passport photos taken. If you are a member of AAA, you can get passport photos for free with AAA Plus, or for $6.99 as a regular member. This seems to be the cheapest way to get passport photos. Walgreens, CVS, etc. charge between $8-12. (Note: AAA price may vary by region, as a friend of mine has AAA Plus and was charged $8.99 for her photos two years ago in Upstate NY. We’re part of Central Penn AAA, so check with AAA first!)

3. Know your parent’s birth dates and birth places. We were shocked to find out that even as an adult, you still needed to fill out that section. We had to make an emergency call to one of my aunts because neither of us were positive we knew the town my Nanny was born in. Turns out, you only needed to know the county or state. The woman working behind the counter told us that some people just make a random guess because they don’t know and don’t think to call a relative.

4. If you are divorced or widowed, you still need to provide information about your former spouse. Their name, the date you got married, and the date you were divorced or became a widow. You do not need a copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or spouse’s death certificate. Even if your birth certificate has your maiden name and you are applying in your married name. As long as your married name is also on your driver’s license, you do not need your marriage certificate for your first passport. You will, however, need it if you are changing your name on your existing passport after marriage. (Thanks to mirrajay on UK-Yankee for answering this for me!)

5. Your driver’s license needs to be at least six months old. If it’s new, then you either have to bring along your expired license, your social security card, or another form of ID. The woman behind the counter was explaining to the people ahead of us that this is to make sure people aren’t just getting an ID for the sake of applying for their passport.

6. You must apply in person for your first passport, and you have to pay a $25 fee on top of the $75 application. These fees are paid in separate transactions, and the $75 needs to be paid either by cheque or money order. Conveniently, the post office sells money orders if you do not have a chequing account.

And that’s about it. It literally took less than 15 minutes after Mom filled out the application to hand it in. We were told to expect her passport in 4-6 weeks. We’ll also get back her birth certificate, and apparently it might even be mailed out separately.

For more information about applying for a US Passport, please see the Department of State‘s website.

Please note: All information in this post is current and valid as of 6/2009. If you are reading this post as an archived post, requirements may have changed, so please check the above website for more information.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Jennifer Ofenstein June 13th, 2009 14:55

    GREAT info! Just FYI, in some states (like TX), official birth certificates come from the county where you were born.

  2. Rebecca June 13th, 2009 15:00

    Thanks for the info! I put “most” in because I was born in the City of New York…everyone else born in the State of NY has to get their birth certificate from Albany, but us folks born in the city have our records kept IN the city and so if I need a new birth certificate, I apply to the City of New York instead of the State. I wasn’t sure what other states did, so that’s definitely good information!

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