How to Get a Passport or ID Card From the Government

Updated July 19, 2017

If you plan to travel abroad, don't forget to apply for a passport or passport card. A passport, sometimes referred to as a passport book, is used to enter foreign countries and re-enter the United States by air, land or water. A passport card, which looks like an identification card, only can be used to re-enter the U.S. by land and water only from Bermuda, the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. In 2008, more than 16 million passports and passport cards were issued in the U.S. Though the passport-application process might seem tedious, following instructions carefully will help ensure a smooth process with few delays.

Complete an application. A passport application, or Form DS-11, can be obtained online from the U.S. Department of State or from a regional passport agency or acceptance facility. Depending on the location, acceptance facilities might include a variety of government offices, including post offices, libraries and courthouses. Be careful not to skip any questions and answer truthfully. Providing false information on a passport application is illegal and could result in serious sanctions. Do not sign.

Obtain photographs. Two identical photographs must be submitted with applications. Some acceptance facilities are equipped to take photos; others are not. Many retailers with a photo department will take passport and passport-card photos for a fee. Passport and passport-card photos have specific requirements. If you submit your own photos, be sure to check the quality requirements set by the State Department to avoid delays.

Locate citizenship documents. When applying for a passport, you will be asked to prove citizenship, so have your document ready. If you were born in the U.S., an old passport or certified birth certificate will suffice. If you were born outside the U.S., a certificate of citizenship, naturalisation or birth abroad will be needed. If you cannot find your birth certificate, contact the Register of Deeds office at the courthouse in the county of your birth for instructions on how to obtain a certified copy.

Establish relationship to children. Minors travelling abroad must have permission from both legal parents to obtain a passport. If you are travelling with or arranging for travel for a child, you will need to provide evidence of your relationship to the child. A birth certificate, birth-abroad report or adoption decree naming both parents will be required. If one parent is deceased or a court has allowed a parent to travel with one parent or guardian, a death certificate or court order might be necessary.

Submit your application. First-time completed passport and passport-card applications and necessary documentation must be submitted in person at a regional passport facility or acceptance agency. Some acceptance agencies require an appointment. Call ahead. Parents must apply with minor children and sign the application. If one parent cannot be present, a notarised statement giving consent must be submitted. When submitting documentation, you will be asked to prove your identity. A previous passport, driver's license, military or governmental identification or naturalisation certificate will be required. When all documents are in order, you will be administered an oath and be asked to sign the form. Fees are nonrefundable. Apply early; the average passport takes six weeks to process.


If you need an expedited passport, contact the State Department.

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About the Author

Mary Flinn is a veteran court reporter specializing in technical and medical testimony. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She has written articles on her career and interests, which include travel, healthy living, and outdoor activities.