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How to Obtain a Passport?
If you, as an American, want to travel abroad, even to Canada, you'll need a passport these days. To obtain a passport is a straightforward process and every American citizen is entitled to one.
It will cost not much more than $100 to obtain one. The fee for the passport itself is currently $97, passport photos cost around $10 or less. US passport is valid for 10 years, so try to obtain one even if you don't need it right away.
First step, the documentation.
You can obtain the the documents to obtain your first passport or renew your old passport online at the Travel.State.Gov website.
Simply download the pdf, fill it out and print it. Alternativelly, you can print the documents and fill them by hand. Another possibility is getting an application at your local post office, if you don't have access to a printer.
In all cases, fill all the information that you can, to the best of your knowledge. It's specially important to fill your address and SSN correctly. Don't sign it yet. The documents must be signed at the passport agency (see step 3 below).
Second step, the photo.
You need two equal frontal pictures of yourself. The pictures must be exactly two inches x two inches. The paper must withstand 225 degrees.
If you let a professional take the picture for you - what is recommended - it won't cost you too much and it will be ready within a couple of hours or less. Tell him explicitly that you need passport photos. He'll know what you need. Only do the pictures at home if you know what you are doing, since you'll have to pay the fee anyway if your pictures get rejected.
Third step, go to a passport agency.
You won't have any difficulty finding one near you. There are 10,000 passport agencies around the US. Any post office serves as a passport agency. And the same is the case for many federal buildings.
To obtain a passport for the first time, you must apply in person and sign the documents from step 1 in person. Minors must go with their parents, and their parents must be able to identify themselves. Take the filled out form of step one, the pics of step two and an original birth certificate.
Take also with you any other form of identification with you like your driver's license, government ID - city, state or federal - or Military ID. The fee for this process, as explained above, is currently $97. If you want to have your passport rushed, you can pay an extra fee of about 60 dollars.
The price in both cases includes shipping. Just make sure you wrote your address correctly at step one.
Beware of any private agency that promises to get you a passport upon the payment of any fee. The fees for that are mostly heavy and the results nearly non-existent.
The process of obtaining a passport is pretty straightforward and you can easily do it yourself.
Fourth step, wait.
The expected wait time is something between two to three months. If you chose to pay the extra fee for having your application rushed, the wait time will be between 2 to 4 weeks.
You can check the status of your application at the travel.state.gov web-site, however, they need about 10 days to reply to any inquiry.