Introduction: How to Get a U.S. Passport

Picture of How to Get a U.S. Passport

With Passports now required for travel to even Mexico and Canada* getting a passport before you need it is wise. If you have never had a Passport or yours is older than 15 years or you were 16 before receiving it follow these instructions.

You will need:
To apply in person
Form DS-11 completed
Proof of citizenship
Proof of identification
Money to pay for the processing

*If you are traveling by land or sea to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, or Bermuda you can use the Passport Card which applications are being accepted for beginning on February 1, 2008.

Step 1: Fill Out Form DS-11 and Find an Acceptance Facility

Picture of Fill Out Form DS-11 and Find an Acceptance Facility

Go to the U.S. Department of State website and fill out form DS-11. Print out the form but do not sign it. Locate a Passport acceptance facility. You can find those nearby by using the Passport Acceptance Facility search page. Make an appointment if necessary, ask what forms of payment are accepted and see if they provide picture taking services or if you need to bring your own photos.

Step 2: Gather Your Documents and Money

Accepted proof of citizenship include:

Certified birth certificate ("A certified birth certificate has a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth." Be certain that your birth certificate is certified and not just an unofficial copy.) IF you need a new certified birth certificate just go to the website of the state you were born in (usually their department of health and division of vital records) instead of going to a commercial service. I just compared a PA certificate: at the state site is $10 and at a commercial service is $32.
Certificate of Citizenship
Naturalization Certificate
Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth

If you don't have any of these you need a Letter of No Record issued by your state and as many of these as you can provide:

Census record
Baptismal certificate
Doctor's record of post-natal care
Hospital birth certificate
Early school record
Family bible record

Further options are available including an Affidavit of Birth (form DS-10) with more information available on this page.

You also will need a current and valid proof of ID:

Naturalization Certificate
Driver's license
Government ID: city, state or federal
Military ID: military and dependents


You may provide your own photograph or have one taken if you go to a Passport Acceptance Facility that will provide that service. A fee may be added for taking the photograph. Your photos must be:

2x2 inches in size
Taken within the past 6 months, showing current appearance
Full face, front view with a plain white or off-white background
Between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
Taken in normal street attire

(Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily. Do not wear a hat or headgear that obscures the hair or hairline. If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device, wig or similar articles, they should be worn for your picture. Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons. A medical certificate may be required.)


If 16 or older the fee is $97. Under 16 the total is $82. For faster delivery of your passport and proof of citizenship ID add an additional $60. You will want to verify with the Acceptance Facility which methods of payment they will accept.

Step 3: Check the Status of Your Application Online

Picture of Check the Status of Your Application Online

The Department of State provides a site that lets you check the status of your applicationcheck the status of your application.

It currently can take up to 12 weeks for your Passport to be processed and sent to you.

This Instructable was written with extensive reference to the Department of State Passport Services Office website. I also just in February went through this process so had just gone through the hoops myself.


IbzanC (author)2015-07-15

I have an id from Washington and I live in Idaho. I work during the week so I can't get my id from here. Could I get my passport from here with a different state?

SGT. Desert (author)2012-08-16

oh what the point i have 3 passes 1 for ussr ( got it a long time ago ) 1 4 U.S.A
1 for germany i like to travel a lot

SGT. Desert (author)2012-08-16

oh what the point i have 3 passes 1 for ussr ( got it a long time ago ) 1 4 U.S.A
1 for germany i like to travel a lot

peacepiper (author)2010-09-11

It's now something like $130 for a passport, plus $20 for "processing fees".

kaetheb (author)2010-04-19

Since this Instructable was posted, some things have changed. For US travelers going to Canada or Mexico, a passport card is now available at a fraction of the cost of a passport book. (If you already have a passport book, you don't need to get the card, but I'd rather leave my passport book at home if I'm just heading to Toronto.) Visit the U.S.State Dept's site to get an estimate of when to expect your passport (in my experience, it was accurate). For first timers, you will need to apply in person, and the State Dept site can also point you to locations where you get the pics done at the same time. I did, and it took about 15 minutes to finish applying.

el.numbre (author)2008-10-02

I got my UK passport in about a month if that :D

xdarkxsparkyx (author)el.numbre2009-04-22

m passport is kewl my nad knows obama and he made my asport gold and the american eagle its awsom and its signed by him im happy

Mitten (author)2007-06-07

Regardless of the condition of this instructable, the wait is WAYYYYY more than 12 weeks. Its like six months now. Three if you get the express

Derin (author)Mitten2008-09-02

it took 3 days for mine:D but it is a TR passport

mrmath (author)Mitten2007-06-07

Got mine in 11 weeks. Put it in in late February of this year. It is taking many people longer than the 10 weeks they say, but it does happen to some.

zieak (author)Mitten2007-06-07

I used both what was on the State Dept website and my experience. It took almost exactly 8 weeks for me to get mine (non-express). I did apply at an office in Washington DC though so that might have helped speed things along.

westfw (author)Mitten2007-06-07

I got my passport in less than a month via the "express" option, within the last month. The rest of the family's had better arrive in less than six months; they said it would at the post office...

Derin (author)2008-09-02

turkish passports are way simpler to get,just your id,some money,an appointment,and off u go!and records are made in police stations

westfw (author)2007-06-07

BTW, I spent WAY too long searching for my expired passport or birth certificate under the assumption that it would be a real PITA to get a replacement to send in for a new passport. When I finally gave up, I discovered that I could get a replacement birth certificate ONLINE and quite PAINLESSLY via VitalChek Express Certificate Service; it arrived in about 2 days. (Almost scary, that...)

killarowa (author)westfw2008-07-13

I highly recommend calling vitalchek for orders, they really helped me, and were very polite... even did away with some of my confusion for different state certificate payments, etc. so even LESS painful overall.

Advocat (author)2008-01-27

What if I don't have proof of citizenship? Are there any loopholes, greencards, etc, places to find brides or grooms? Can I go on holiday, get married, then live permanently like that? .. Can I go to the USA if I have a criminal record? NO! Can I apply for itizenship? All of these burning questions, I think also need to be answered, if possible.

zieak (author)Advocat2008-01-27

On your first question - from step 2 - "If you need a new certified birth certificate just go to the website of the state you were born in" The rest of the questions do not have to do with obtaining a passport but they would be good questions for an instructable on becoming a citizen or being an immigrant.

zieak (author)2007-06-11

News on the passport wait...

"The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security announced June 8, 2007 that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can nevertheless temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport through September 30, 2007."

Full press release here.

rislejay (author)2007-06-07

I found out the hard way that there are two different types of birth certificates, short and long. I went 30 years only knowing one type, the short one. The post office asked for the long one and I was lost. It might be worth noting that somewhere so others can save themselves a couple of trips.

zieak (author)rislejay2007-06-07

Will do!

mrmath (author)2007-06-06

I'm not epxressing any opinion in either direction with this comment. I'm only asking the question to start the conversation. The process for getting a passport is well documented on the Dept of State's website. You can get any help you need at the post office. You can't do anything to improve the process, and you can't do anything to change the process of getting a passport. Is it a valid use of the Instrutables site to detail the steps of a well documented process that can't be changed or improved? Again, I'm not saying it is or it isn't. I'm asking the question. Yes, I have an opinion, but I want to see what others think before I go one way or the other. I'm basically admitting, here and now, that I could be wrong, before I even say what I'm thinking.

zieak (author)mrmath2007-06-06

I feel that some redundancy on the website could be useful. Especially to make Instructables the quintessential go-to for instructions. Rhetorically speaking: there are scores of good cooking sites - why even bother with a cooking instructable? I felt that many of the things listed in the forum as Instructables that needed to be written were easily found elsewhere. But there are some things that i have been doing lately that i have found online that might be good to have on this site like how to put up chain link fencing, how to build stairs, or how to cut crown molding.

mrmath (author)zieak2007-06-07

OK. See, I can go either way. I view this site, on the one hand, as a special place to go where you can find instructions on how to do stuff you can't find anywhere else, and as a place to get instructions from other places modified. That was my initial thought, and why I asked the question. On the other hand, instructables is a place to go to get instructions. Yes, it may be documented elsewhere, but if they are instructions, they belong here.

ewilhelm (author)mrmath2007-06-07

We've been trying really hard to make the site big enough so that both of these "types" of Instructables fit in. I, personally, see it as a continuum with no right or wrong. There is another thing, though. I believe our step-by-step format to be superior over many of the other formats for instruction I see on the web. Having just renewed my passport, I can attest that the state department's instructions were tough to follow, hard to find, and, to be honest, kind of annoying. My only concern here is making sure the Instructable is accurate and up to date. Perhaps this is a good candidate for a collaboration with a group?

trebuchet03 (author)mrmath2007-06-06

Is it a valid use of the Instrutables site to detail the steps of a well documented process that can't be changed or improved?

Absolutely! While you can indeed get this information from the post office.... This was a "burning question" -- based off what user search for ;)

It's not only finding information -- it's finding information where you think it might be. Instructables seems to be a likely place to find "how to do (something)" ;)

0.775volts (author)2007-06-06

You can also use an expired passport for the required ID.

mrmath (author)0.775volts2007-06-06

Not at an airport in the US. The ID must be a valid, current, government issued ID. You can, under certain circumstances, use alternative ID that is not valid, current, or government issued. You should consult the ticket counter and/or the TSA agents at the airport for details.

trebuchet03 (author)mrmath2007-06-06

He said for the required id -- that is, the one necessary for the passport ;) I did mine that way by mail... And got the expired one back with holes punched in it :)

You can also use expired passport on your I9 form as a new employee (and likely other forms too).

mrmath (author)trebuchet032007-06-07

OOPS! Sorry! Misunderstood what he was saying. I travel by air almost every week for my job, so I'm a little influenced by that. Yes, you can use an expired passport as your ID, provided it meets the age guidelines. Once again, sorry!

trebuchet03 (author)mrmath2007-06-07

No worries and no need to apologize :)

zieak (author)0.775volts2007-06-06

I was writing specifically for those that do not yet have a passport. If you already have one (as long as it is not over 15 years old or as long as you were older than 16 when it was issued) the renewal process is far simpler and does not need to be done in person.

ll.13 (author)2007-06-07

What I want to know is how many ID cards say that they are not proof of identity, people want your childs birth certificate for "proof of identity", that doesn't even have a photo, and at the bottom guess what it says? (in bold italics as well!)

zieak (author)ll.132007-06-07

The birth certificate is proof of citizenship - you still need a valid form of ID in addition to the birth certificate. I was lost on that one until i went through the application also.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!
More by zieak:Lego Minifig ShelfBuild a cabanaWooden building block table top
Add instructable to: