If your dream vacation involves skipping town (and by town, I mean the country), chances are you're going to need a passport. Getting a US passport will require a bit of time, patience, and money, but the payoff is well worth it. Though you can travel to all US states and territories with just a driver's license or other state-issued ID, you won't be able to get to, say, Paris or Shanghai without one of those telltale blue books.
Generally speaking, you'll need to go in person in order to apply for a passport, though if you're over the age of 16 and your last passport was issued fewer than 15 years ago, you may be able to fill out an online form. Still, for the sake of ease, let's assume that this will all have to be done in real life, and not over the internet.
1. Fill out Form DS-11 at Travel.State.Gov
You'll need to provide your Social Security number, and if you don't have one, you'll need to submit a signed and dated statement that includes the phrase, "I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct: I have never been issued a Social Security Number by the Social Security Administration."
2. Sign the form
You'll need to be careful about this step. You cannot sign the DS-11 until the acceptance agent allows you to do so.
3. Prove your US citizenship
In order to obtain a US passport, you'll need to be a US citizen. In order to verify this, you'll need to submit an original or certified copy (a document bearing the seal or stamp of the issuing body) of one of the below:
In addition to your proof of citizenship, you'll also need another form of state-issued ID. As outlined at Travel.State.Gov, this can include any of the following:
5. Have two passport photos ready (just in case)
This may seem like the easy part, but as it turns out, there are extensive guidelines for a proper passport photo. I would recommend going to the post office or your local CVS (or any other passport photo provider) rather than trying to take a selfie. Passport photos must be in color and be taken in the last six months and must bear a plain or off-white background. If you wear glasses, you'll need to remove them for the photo, and the printed image should be 2 by 2 inches, with the head positioned between 1 and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
6. Have your money ready
It does indeed cost money to get your passport, and there's both an application and an acceptance fee. Passports will cost you $145 total if you're over 16 years old, or $115 for children aged 15 and under.
7. Submit and wait
Once your application is complete and you've submitted all necessary forms of ID, your photo, and your payment to your local passport office location (likely your local post office), you'll just need to play the waiting game. Keep in mind that passports generally arrive somewhere between six and eight weeks after you've sent in your application, though for an extra fee, you can expedite the process. If you're not in a rush, however, you can start checking the status of your passport online about a week after submission.
How to renew your passport
Courtesy of Sunny Chanel / Business Insider
If there's a feeling worse than realizing that your passport is expired or near expiration in the days before your highly anticipated vacation, I don't want to know about it. But fret not, friends — where there's a will, there's a way, and that can apply to your passport as well. While we wouldn't recommend waiting until the last minute to renew your passport (and by that, we mean any less than two weeks in advance), there are certainly ways to ensure that your travel documents are always travel-ready. Here are the steps for renewing your passport.
1. Check your passport's expiration date well before your travel date
Even if your passport doesn't expire until after you're set to leave the country, remember that many countries require that you'll need a passport that is good for a set amount of time beyond your trip. Even if that's not the case, you'll also need a valid passport to get back into the US.
If your trip is in two weeks or less:
2. Make an appointment with your Regional Passport Agency
You can either call 877-487-2778, where you'll be able to use the 24-hour automated system to schedule an appointment at any time during the day, or you can check out the online passport appointment system. Note that the expedited process costs an extra fee of $60, plus the traditional $145 for folks 16 and older (or $115 for those 15 and under).
3. Prepare proof of travel, application, latest passport, and recent passport photos
Be prepared to provide proof of immediate travel (such as confirmation emails from your airline), as well as an application form and updated passport photo. Note that your passport photo should be taken at either a post office or a pharmacy that knows exactly what they're meant to be doing — these photos have very specific guidelines that you'll need to follow. Specifically, they must be in color and be taken in the last six months and must bear a plain or off-white background. If you wear glasses, you'll need to remove them for the photo, and the printed image should be 2 by 2 inches, with the head positioned between 1 and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
You'll also need to fill out the renewal application form DS-82, which can be filled out on your computer or by hand.
Finally, be sure to bring your most recent passport.
4. Bring proof of name change
If you're renewing your passport because your name has changed, you'll need proof of that. To that end, be sure to bring along a certified copy of your marriage certificate or a court order of your name change.
If your trip is in three weeks or more:
5. Send in your mail application
You can either follow the above steps or elect to submit an application by mail. You'll need to have the same documentation prepared (passport photos, application, recent passport, etc.).
If you're living outside the US or Canada:
6. Get in touch with either the US Embassy or consulate in your country of residence
Check out the requisite forms for all passports requested from overseas.
How to travel without a passport
Katie Canales/Business Insider
When I was but a wee child, my otherwise remarkably responsible, extremely talented, professorial parents forgot my passport in a bank deposit box. That meant that rather than visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I visited my grandparents for a week. To be fair, I wasn't nearly sentient enough to be traumatized by the missed opportunity of expanding my cultural horizons, but the incident did instill in me an undying fear of forgetting my passport in future travel situations. But as it turns out, going to the airport sans passport isn't always the end of the world, or more saliently, of your trip. In fact, there are a few ways that you can travel without a passport, so you can stop waking up in a cold sweat in the days before you big vacation (or is that just me?).
Let's be clear — it is not always the case that you can travel without a passport. But similarly, it is not always the case that you need this official document in order to board a plane. In fact, as I recently learned when I forgot my driver's license (apparently even waking up in a cold sweat doesn't help me much), you don't even need government-issued ID when traveling within the United States. But we'll get to that later.
When you don't need a passport
First, we should clarify where you can go if you're an American traveling without an American passport. If you're going to any US territory (American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Guam, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), and Wake Island), you can forego your passport as long as you have valid photo identification. That can either be a driver's license or another state-issued ID card (like an NYC ID for New Yorkers). Non-drivers can also go to their state's motor vehicles department in order to obtain such identification. If you're traveling to another country overseas, however, all bets are off — you'll almost certainly need a passport (and sometimes a visa) in order to enter another nation.
If you're traveling to Canada, preapproved individuals will be able to travel to our northern neighbor if they have a Trusted Traveler Program Nexus card. Obtaining this card requires an application, so it's not necessarily the easiest workaround.
Should you be traveling with children or you are under 18 years of age, there's good news. As long as you are or your child is accompanied by someone over the age of 18 who has proper identification, you won't need any ID at all in order to travel within the US and its territories.
When you don't have your passport
Now, let's say that you've forgotten all forms of government ID altogether. Should you sob as you wave your well-earned trip to the beach goodbye? Not necessarily. As per the TSA website, you'll "most likely" still be able to travel. You'll need to budget extra time to get through security, but you should be able to speak with a TSA representative who should ask you to complete a form that includes your name and current address. You may also be asked to provide items with your name, like a credit or debit card. The agent will then ask a few additional questions in order to confirm you are who you say you are, at which point you should be permitted to go on your merry way.
One thing to keep in mind: While you shouldn't count on being able to travel with just a copy of your passport, it's always smart to keep one on you. Should you lose your passport while you're out of the United States, having a copy of this document will be key in helping you re-obtain the necessary identification to get back home. If you misplace your passport abroad, bring the copy of your passport and any other identification you may have to the nearest embassy or consulate in order to expedite the replacement process.
Alternatives to a passport for folks traveling within the US or in US territories can be found below:
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