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How to Apply for a U.S. Passport

Updated on January 4, 2011

Are you an American citizen? Good for you! United States citizenship is one of the most coveted in the world. People from all corners of the globe are trying to get that. But how do you prove you are a U.S. citizen? You have to have been born in the United States while your parents were not serving as diplomats from another country (because then being born here doesn't count), or you have to been born to United States citizens abroad, or you have to have been naturalized. So, what kind of documentation do you need? Is a birth certificate enough? A birth certificate is enough to prove you were born here, but it won't prove that your parents were not foreign diplomats at the time. On the other hand, if you were born abroad to American citizens, then your own birth certificate is certainly not enough. If you were naturalized, then a birth certificate is no proof at all of your citizenship. A passport is by far the best proof of United States citizenship for the greatest number of people. You have the right to obtain a United States passport no matter how you acquired your citizenship.

Do you need a passport? Well, you might. Are you traveling to a foreign country? Then you need a passport. Are you traveling to Arizona -- or even passing through Arizona on a road trip? Then, even though you are a U.S. citizen, you might need a passport, too. They will require proof of citizenship, and one of the handiest forms of proof of U.S. citizenship is a U.S. passport. (It's a lot better than a certificate of naturalization -- because you're allowed to make photocopies of a passport, but you could go to prison for copying your certificate of naturalization or allowing a police officer or other official to do so.)

A United States passport may also come in handy when applying for a job in the United States. In many cases, institutional employers will need proof of lawful residence and the right to work, and one way to prove that your residence in the United States is lawful is to show that you are a United States citizen. It used to be the case that only non-citizens had to prove these things, and one of the perks of being a citizen was that you didn't have to prove that you had the right to work and could avoid the hefty fees of obtaining the proof. But those days are over now.

A U.S. Passport Book

A biometric passport book-- it contains a chip that has an electronic copy of your photo, identification info, and anything printed inside your passport, and can be used to track your movements when scanned.
A biometric passport book-- it contains a chip that has an electronic copy of your photo, identification info, and anything printed inside your passport, and can be used to track your movements when scanned. | Source

United States Passport Card

passport card
passport card | Source

Types of Passports

The most common kind of United States Passport is the one with the blue cover. It is also known as a U.S. passport book, as opposed to a U.S. Passport card. The U.S. passport book allows United States citizens and nationals to travel to and from the United States and its territories freely by land, air, and sea, using any form of conveyance. If you are going to outer space, on reentry into U.S. airspace you might be required to show your passport.

In contrast, a U.S. passport card is not valid for international air travel. It is issued by the government only for purposes of crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, the Carribean and Bermuda. So if you get lost in the Bermuda triangle and re-emerge through a rip in the time-space continuum in some other place in the world, then your passport card may not be enough to successfully re-enter the United States and its territories.You can hold the U.S. passport card in addition to a regular passport, and this can come in handy when travelling internationally for a long time. When people need to apply for a visa, and they have to hand in their regular passport, the U.S. passport card can be a valid substitute proof of ID and U.S. citizenship, allowing free movement unrestricted by local authorities.

Other types of passport are those issued to people in the United States diplomatic service, and those that are given to employees of the United States government who are traveling abroad on U.S. government business, but are not diplomats.

Diplomatic Passport

Diplomatic Passport
Diplomatic Passport | Source

Documents and Attachments that must Accompany a Passport Application

To apply for a passport, you need to submit two special passport photos, the correct fee made out to the Department of State, and proof that you are a United States citizen or a United States national. That proof may consist of a birth certificate, a certificate of naturalization, or a recent passport. For those who need to present unusual documentation, it is best to appear in person at a proper facility for the issuance of the passport, because it would be unwise to mail in a certificate of naturalization or special irreplaceable affidavits. (Someone who has no birth certificate, but who nevertheless was born in the United States, may need to go through quite a process to prove citizenship once, but after doing so, if he promptly renews his passport before expiration every ten years, he will not have to prove the same thing over and over again with the same degree of rigor.)

When applying for a passport for your minor child, you need one additional piece of documentation. Either both parents must be present, or the applying parent or guardian must bring in an affidavit of consent from the other parent. If there is no other parent, then the remaining parent or guardian must bring in a special affidavit saying so. Passports for minor children must be applied for in person, and the child must be present during the application process.

Official Passport

A passport issued to an employee of the United States government working abroad who is not a diplomat
A passport issued to an employee of the United States government working abroad who is not a diplomat | Source

Schedule of Fees for a Passport Application

First time applicants who are adults must pay an application fees of $110 for a passport book and $30 for a passport card, but in addition to that there's an execution fee.The first time you apply, you have to appear at a special facility in person, such as an authorized passport issuing authority, a U.S. consulate, embassy or passport agency. There is a $25.00 execution fee charged in addition to the passport fee. The passport fee is to be made out to the Department of State, but the execution fee goes to the special facility where you present yourself. For a renewal, an adult can dispense with the facility and the execution fee is waived, if the applicant sends his application by mail.

All children are considered first time applicants until they reach the age of sixteen. The fee for a passport book is only eighty dollars for a child, but the $25.00 execution fee is mandatory every single time, even for a renewal. For a passport card, a child is only charged $15.00, but the $25.00 execution fee remains the same.

Expedited Passport Processing

Expedited Passport Processing
Expedited Passport Processing | Source

Expedited Passport Processing Services

Because it costs $110.00 to apply for a passport for an adult and $80.00 for a child (plus a $25.00 processing fee), and because an adult passport lasts for ten years, but a child's passport only lasts for five years, many people are reluctant to apply for a passport unless they feel that they absolutely need to have one where they are going. If ten years go by and you go nowhere where a passport would come in handy, why waste the $110.00? If five years go by and you don't take your child anywhere, why waste the one hundred and five dollars? As a result, when the opportunity to go someplace arises, many people are unprepared. If you are in that situation, you might want to get expedited passport processing.

Proof of Citizenship or Proof of Being a United States National

Is everyone who is issued a U.S. Passport necessarily a United States citizen? No, not necessarily. United States passports are also issued by the State Department to U.S. Nationals who are not U.S. citizens. Some people born in American Samoa, including Swains Island, are nationals but not citizens of the United States. However, if you are a U.S. citizen, your passport will say so, and this is the best possible proof of U.S. citizenship. It is better than a birth certificate, because not everyone born a citizen was born in the United States, and it is less dangerous than carrying around your one and only copy of a certificate of naturalization.

If you are a United States citizen and plan to travel abroad, or to set foot in Arizona, or if you want to work for a company that requires proof of legal residency and/or the right to work, then a current United States passport is a very good thing to have.

(C) 2010 Aya Katz


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    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      SweetiePie, I totally understand. There is no point in trying to second guess what might have happened if we had taken a different path. We can change the future, but not the past. I hope you get to take some interesting trips abroad at a time that is right for you.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I am going to renew my passport, but I just am not keen on doing this since I never used it. I am not upset about the roommate because I think she only offered for me to come visit her and volunteer at the summer camp because the people that ran it expected it of her. She was a nice person and all, but once I found out I was going to get a job I just thought it would be better to work and not go. Maybe I should have went, but I cannot regret it.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      SweetiePie, sounds as if your potential roommate was acting kind of shifty. It probably was something that was happening in her life right at that moment and had nothing to do with you. Too bad you lost the fee for the expedited passport processing and the normal passport fees, too, and didn't get to use them.

      Because I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, I keep my passport always renewed, because you never know when proof of citizenship will be required. I have to do this even when I know I will not get to travel outside the country in the next ten years. It's kind of an added citizenship tax.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I applied for an expedited passport back in 2000 because I was going to volunteer at a summer camp in the UK. However, the roommate I was going to stay with started acting a bit distant the last week, and told me since I am so independent I would just have fun exploring London myself. Yes I would not mind doing that for a couple of days, but then I started wondering why was I going over there to visit her if she really did not seem excited about me coming. I ended up getting a job and not going, and so I have never used my passport. Oh well, I hope to go to Tahiti and Australia one day, but I have other priorities at the moment.