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How to Get a Passport and Passport Photo

How to get a passport depends on who is applying for the passport and when the passport is needed

U.S. citizens and citizen-nationals are required to have a U.S. passport for international travel. Depending on when the passport is needed and whether or not the passport applicant is a first-time applicant, adult, or minor, will determine where and how the passport application should be processed.

Getting a U.S. passport may seem like a daunting process, but it does not have to be. In order to ease the passport application process, read below to learn how to get a passport before walking through the door of a passport agency or passport acceptance facility.

Passport book vs Passport card

Before beginning the passport application process, first determine whether you need a passport book or card.

Passport book

A passport book can be used for all international travel.

Passport card

Passport cards, first issued in July of 2008, can be used by U.S. citizens entering by land or sea border crossings from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. They cannot be used for international air travel. While the passport card has limited use, it is less expensive than the passport book and may be worth getting for citizens that only need a passport for this limited travel. In fact, almost three-million passport cards have been issued since its inception in 2008.

The U.S. Post Office is a passport acceptance facility

A completed passport application can be brought to a passport acceptance facility such as the post office. Passport photos can also be taken at many post offices.

A completed passport application can be brought to a passport acceptance facility such as the post office. Passport photos can also be taken at many post offices.


Passport application forms

Who is applying for the passport?

It is important to complete the proper passport application form. Which password application form used depends on whether or not the applicant is applying for a passport for the first-time, is a minor under age 16, is filing for passport renewal, or lives outside the borders of the United States. There are also forms for people who have had a passport lost or stolen or who need to have their name changed or corrected. Special requirements also exist for U.S. diplomats and officials.

Additionally, passport applications can be completed online at the U.S. Department of State website or printed and filled out. Either way, the passport application process is not completed.

After determining which passport application form to use and possibly filing it online, the next step is determine where to apply for a passport and submit the application, as well as other documents needed to complete the application.


Passport book colors


  • 1941 - 1976
  • April 1993 - March 1994 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Consular service

Blue: 1976 - passport books were issued with blue covers in recognition of the United States bi-centennial

Brown: Issued for citizen employees of the U.S.

Black: Issued for U.S. diplomats

Apply for a passport

Where to submit the passport application partially depends on when the passport is needed.

The U.S. Department of State offers both routine (4-6 weeks) and expedited (2-3 weeks for a fee) passport services. Both services require an absolute minimum of two weeks, so it is imperative to plan ahead of time when traveling internationally!

For passports needed in less than 2 weeks:

For U.S. citizens needing a passport in less than two weeks (or a foreign visa in less than four weeks), the passport application needs to be filed at a regional passport agency. There are twenty-four regional passport facilities located throughout the United States and an appointment is required.

For passports not needed for at least several weeks or longer:

For U.S. citizens not needing a passport for at least several weeks or longer, the passport application can be filed at a passport acceptance facility.

What is a passport acceptance facility?

  • A passport acceptance facility accepts passport applications on behalf of the U.S. Department of State.
  • Passport acceptance facilities include many U.S. post offices, clerks of court, libraries, and other state and government agencies.

For passports needed by U.S. citizens outside of the United States:

U.S. citizens in need of a passport and not presently within the United States in need to consult their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for instructions.


Passport links:

Things to bring when applying for a passport

1. Bring the completed passport application form.

If the form was not completed and submitted online, then bring the completed form to either a regional passport agency or passport acceptance facility.

2. Bring one form of ID proving U.S. citizenship and a copy of it. Acceptable IDs include:

  • U.S. Passport that is not damaged (for passport renewals)
  • Certified birth certificate (not a copy without seal)
  • Consular report of birth abroad
  • Certificate of naturalization
  • Certificate of citizenship

3. Bring another type of current ID and a copy of it. Acceptable IDs include:

  • Valid driver's license
  • Current government ID
  • Current military ID
  • U.S. Passport that is not damaged (for passport renewals)
  • Certificate of naturalization

4. Bring a passport photo.

Many passport acceptance facilities will also take photos, but a passport photo taken elsewhere can be used if it follows passport photo guidelines, including:

  • passport photo must be 2" x 2"
  • passport photo must have a white or off-white background
  • the photo should be a full face from the front
  • the photo cannot contain shadows or contrasting lighting
  • no hats or sunglasses can be worn in passport photo

Find out how to get a take free passport photo yourself which meets all passport photo requirements.

5. Bring the proper form of payment.

Many passport acceptance facilities will accept checks or money orders for applying for the passport. Additional, fees can often be paid by cash, check, credit or debit card. To learn more about passport fees, read: How much does a passport cost?


Passport renewal

Passport renewal is required for expired passports. Passports are valid for:

  • 10 years if the current passport was issued at age 16-years old or older, or
  • 5 years for passports issued at age 15-years old or younger

The U.S. department of state suggests renewing a passport at least 9 months before the date of expiration. The reason being, that some airlines require a passport to be valid for at least 6 months more.

Passport renewal can either be done by mail or in person depending on several factors.

Passport renewal is allowed to be completed through the mail if the current passport:

  • is undamaged (must be sent in with passport renewal application)
  • was gotten at age 16-years old or older
  • was gotten in the last 15 years
  • has current name on it (or else documents verifying legal name change need to be included)

Otherwise, the passport renewal needs to be completed in person.


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Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on November 16, 2011:

Hey Deborah - That's great! Thanks for letting me know.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on November 16, 2011:

Just checking back to report, yes, I finally got my passport photo at Walgreens yesterday. You really did motivate me! : )

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on November 12, 2011:

It's best to apply for a passport with time to spare, as you point out, Arlene. This is where procrastinators and people who just haven't looked into getting a passport before, run into trouble. It's great to know that AAA was able to provide you with an angelic photo :) (At first I read your comment as AA and was a bit confused!)

Arlene V. Poma on November 11, 2011:

I had my photo done by the local AAA. I have no complaints. For 11 bucks, I looked pretty angelic. As long you can apply for a passport or renew it months before you need it, there's no worries.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on November 11, 2011:

You should follow the link above for "free passport photo" and have someone take your photo. You then upload it to a website that makes sure it meets government standards. This way you can get a photo you like - seeing that you have to have it for 10 years it may be worth trying, plus you save a little money this way too :) Thanks for commenting Deborah.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on November 11, 2011:

Thanks for this. I've been procrastinating about renewing my passport because I need to get a photo. You've motivated me!

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