Applying for a Passport the First Time?
Here's What to Do

When applying for a passport there are different rules, fees, and forms depending on who you are [adult, minor, or child]; how old you are [over 16, 16-17, or 15 & younger]; and whether or not you've previously held a passport.

Even though there are special stipulations for children and minors, every person applying for a passport for the first time uses a U.S. passport application form known as the DS-11 [Department of State, Form 11].

The passport application form is available at more than 6,000 passport accep-tance facilities located around the country, including U.S. post offices, clerks of court, some public libraries, and various municipal government offices. Appli-cation forms are free of charge.

You can also find application forms on the Department of State website, where you can download the form and fill it out by hand, or complete it online before printing. However, you cannot submit your application online.

Other than when applying for a passport for the first time, you’ll also use the DS-11 application form when:

  • Your most recent U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago;
  • You were younger than 15 years old when your current passport was issued;
  • Your current U.S. passport has been lost, stolen, or damaged; or
  • Your name has changed since your current passport was issued, but you have no legal proof of that name change.

Applying for a passport is a straightforward, clear-cut process. Just follow the instructions that come with each application carefully, and soon you’ll have your new passport in your hands.

Medieval British Fortifications

Steps For Applying For A Passport

For adults and minors [16 years and older] applying for a passport for the first time, you'll need the following:

Completed Passport Form: The DS-11 application form is two pages, with an additional four pages of information, instruction, and FAQ's.

Complete the DS-11 form in black ink, whether printed or hand-written. When printing the online passport application print on one side of the paper only.

Don't sign your completed application. You'll do that at the passport acceptance facility, when you appear in person and are sworn in, under oath, by authorized personnel.  

Color photo: One color photo is used when applying for a passport and must be recently taken [within the past six months].

There are strict passport photo requirements as to size, image content, and di-mension. Even though you can now submit a non-professional photo from your own digital camera, don't do it!

Strict requirements for image size, paper quality, photo background, and content positioning make it almost impossible to get it right on your own. Find a company that understands passport photo requirements and takes them regularly on a professional basis.

Tips for an acceptable photo:

  1. Wear your hair as you do normally.
  2. Dress conservatively, without logos or slogans on your clothing.
  3. Don’t wear uniforms, camouflage, or religious icons.
  4. Remove flashy jewelry, hats, scarves, and hair ornaments.
  5. If you normally wear glasses, wear them, but
  6. Don't wear sunglasses, readers, or non-prescription glasses.

Don't attach the photo to your passport application.

Proof of U.S. citizenship: There are several documents you can use for proof of U.S. citizenship. The easiest is a certified copy of your birth certificate from the state where you were born. A certified birth certificate has an embossed [raised] seal. 

Make sure your certificate is a legally recorded birth certificate - not a 'Certificate of Birth' issued by the hospital where you were born. 

Hospital certificates don't prove you're a citizen. They only prove you were born.

Applying for a passport currently requires specific parental information to appear on your birth certificate: both parents' full names, along with their date and place of birth.

If you don’t have a certified copy, request one online at vitalchek.com.

This is a secure service that allows you to order personal vital record documents [birth, death, marriage, etc.] for the U. S., including Puerto Rico.

Or link through the CDC website to order vital records from U.S. states and territories, plus New York City and Washington DC.   

For missing birth documents, births abroad, or if you are a naturalized citizen, you can find information, answers, and help at the DOS site. 

Along the Fashionable Ko in Dusseldorf

Depending on the situation of your birth [outside the country, adoption, or to naturalized parents] additional information may be required as proof of U.S. citizenship, when applying for a passport, regardless of your age.

If your birth certificate doesn't include the required information, you may need to submit additional documents as proof of citizenship. This is known as Secondary Evidence. You can find information on the DOS site.

Proof of identity: A driver’s license [not a temporary or learners] will fill this requirement. If you don’t drive, most states issue a document - usually free - for identification purposes.

You can also use a government or military ID. It must be current, valid, undam-aged, and include both your picture and your signature.

A previously issued U.S. passport book or card is also acceptable, if it's in good condition.

You must bring both your proof of identity and a photocopy. Both will be sub-mitted with your completed DS-11 application form. Make a copy of the front and back of your proof of identity on standard letter-sized paper [mandatory]. Print on one side only. Your original documents will be returned to you. 

Social Security number: You must include your Social Security number on the passport application form. The DOS uses your number as part of the verification and identification process when issuing your passport. Not submitting your num-ber can result in a fine or non-issuance of your passport.

Payment of fees: Applying for a passport requires paying fees at the time you submit your U.S. passport application form.

There are 2 standard fees when applying for a passport for the first time, if you’re over 16 years of age and applying for a U.S. passport book:

Application fee - $110.00
Execution fee   - $  25.00

The application fee is payable to U.S. Department of State. This is for processing your passport.

The execution fee is paid to the passport application acceptance facility where you’re sworn in, in payment for their services.

Payment methods differ by facility. When applying for a passport, check with the passport acceptance facility you plan to use for the kinds of payment they accept [credit or debit cards, personal check or money order, or cash funds].

There are usually several payment options at a U.S. Post Office, however, the two fees above are paid separately and may require different forms of payment.

You may also have multiple payment options, if applying at a Regional U.S. Pass-port Agency.

Payment amounts for passport cards or a combination of passport card and pass-port book can be found on the DOS website.

After You Receive Your U.S. Passport

View of Rossio Square from Santa Justa Elevator

When you receive your passport from the issuing U.S. passport  agency, check it thoroughly to make sure there are no mistakes.

Errors happen rarely, but if there is one on your new passport, it can easily be corrected. [Another reason to get your passport early in the process of planning a trip overseas.]

Sign your new passport immediately, in ink, with your name as it appears on the information page.

Make 2 copies of the infor-mation page. Take one copy with you when you travel. [Keep it in a separ-ate location from your passport.]

Leave a copy at home in a secure location, but where someone can find it, if you should need it. Either copy can be used to facilitate applying for a passport re-placement, if you lose yours while traveling.

By signing your U.S. passport, you're agreeing to protect it from being stolen and promising to keep it safe and secure at all times.

Always keep your passport in a protected and secure location, whether traveling or storing it at home between trips.

Treat your passport with respect. It's the most important travel document you’ll ever have.







Find more information on current, updated  passport application procedures in these articles:

Getting A Passport

Renewing A Passport

Passports For Children

Child Passport Application

Need A Rush Passport?

Using A Passport Expediting Service

Atlanta Passport Agency

Return to Understanding Passports & Visas


Travel Tip

Since mid-2009, U.S. travelers are required to book airline travel in the exact name as their proof of identity used at airport security checkpoints.

For international travelers, this means all travel should be booked using your name exactly as it appears in your U.S. passport.

Take steps to correct all government-issued ID documents, including your driver’s license, as well as frequent flyer and other travel accounts to show your name as it appears on the identifying document you use when travel-ing internationally. Having all documents show the same name will prevent you from losing earned points, and more importantly, you’ll be boarded on your flights without incident.

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