***Note: this information is for US passports only.**
Obtaining a passport is usually a straightforward and fairly simple process as long as you have all the documents you need. We recommend starting as early as possible before your trip. The last thing you want, when you’re packing for your mission trip, is to be wondering if your passport will show up on time.
You can check current passport processing times here. If you are cutting it close on time, check out the options for “passport in a hurry.”
This process applies if it is your first time applying for a US passport or if your previous passport was lost, stolen, damaged, issued when you were 15 or younger, or expired more than 5 years ago.
Step 1 – Gather Your Documents
- Passport application form – fill it out here and print it. Do NOT write anything additional on the application form. Do NOT sign it until they tell you to at the passport office.
- Birth certificate – it must be the original or a certified copy. If you don’t have your birth certificate, you can obtain a certified copy through the Vital Records office of the state in which you were born or there are services that can help you through the process online. If you were born outside the US and became a US citizen through naturalization, click here to see what documents you need.
- Government-issued photo ID – your driver’s license will work. If you are under 18 then your parent can present their ID instead.
- Photocopy of the front and back of your birth certificate and ID.
- Passport photo – you can take your passport photo yourself (click here for requirements), but honestly, it’s a lot easier to have it taken at a place that does passport photos regularly. Some passport acceptance facilities offer this service, but you can also have the pictures taken at many CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target locations. Pro tip: you can smile in your passport picture! It just needs to be a natural smile. A lot of places will tell you you can’t smile. They are wrong (per this government website).
- Payment – you can calculate your fees here. You will need a check or money order payable to “US Department of State” to pay the passport fees. Personal checks are fine. The acceptance facility will also charge an additional $35. Payment options vary depending on location, but most post offices will accept check, money order, or credit card. Once you make an appointment you can call ahead to confirm which forms of payment they accept.
Step 2 – In-Person Appointment
- Schedule it – make an appointment at a passport acceptance facility. Usually this will be a post office near you.
- Show up – make sure you are there on time with all your documents ready.
Step 3 – Wait
All the information for the adult passport application also applies if you are under 16, but with the additional step that you will need permission from your parents to apply and, instead of using your own ID, your parents will need to use theirs. Go here to see the details for under 16 passport applications.
Most of the time you can renew a passport by mail! This applies if you obtained your previous passport when you were at least 16 years old and it expired less than 5 years ago. Go here for the steps to renew your passport.
Pro-tip: if your previous passport was fairly full, you can request a 52-page passport (vs. the standard 28) when you renew.
Note: many countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months past your travel date.
If you don’t have enough time for the normal passport processing, don’t panic or give up. You still have options.
- Expedite – You can expedite new passport applications and renewals when you apply. It costs an extra $60, but is totally worth the fee vs missing your trip. You can even expedite your passport AFTER submitting the application if you look online and the estimated processing time will take too long. You have to call the National Passport Information Center (1-877-487-2778) to add expediting after the fact. It still costs $60.
- Faster shipping – you can pay for faster shipping for your passport when you apply. You may be able to add this after the fact as well.
- In-person at a passport agency – OK, this really is the last option, but it has saved several team members’ trips. If it looks like there’s no way your passport will arrive in time, you can make an appointment at a passport agency or center. There are only a limited number of these in the entire US. Hopefully you don’t live too far from one. Click here and follow the instructions to make an appointment. Note: your appointment must be within 5 business days of travel, but you can make the appointment earlier than that. Since appointments are limited, do it as soon as you realize your passport won’t arrive in time! You will need all the same documentation you needed to apply for (or renew) your passport, so you may have to scramble to get another certified copy of your birth certificate. You will need to show proof of travel plans. Print a copy of your flight itinerary and take that with you.