Passports 101

So, you want to travel. You’ve budgeted your time (awesome!) and your money (excellent!) and are now ready to start planning. Where do you start? Well, if your goal is to travel internationally you MUST start with a passport. The process for applying your passport and actually receiving your passport can be slightly confusing and lengthy. In hopes of making this process easier and relatively painless, here is a step by step guide.

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*Note: This guide is for first-time applicants. You will have to apply in person.

Step 1: Passport Photo

You know how your driver’s license photo looks like a sleep-deprived, slightly sick version of you? Be prepared for a passport picture that looks similar! Here are some of the  options you have for getting your passport photo:

In Person :

  • Drug Stores (Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid)
  • US Post Office
  • Shipping Stores (UPS, Fed Ex, etc.)
  • bulk retailers (Sam’s Cub and Costco)
  • select college campuses

Online Options:


This list is not all inclusive,  but it is a good start.

Web Resource:

Step 2: Form DS-11

Complete (but do NOT sign) the Form DS-11 found here.

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Step 3: Apply In Person

This is not the most pleasant day. You WILL wait, which means you are likely giving up a day off or using personal time from work (and not to travel – boo!). Make sure you’ve got all the needed paperwork (DS-11, originals of primary evidence of US citizenship, originals of primary Identification, copies (per regulations) of identifying documents, etc) , so that you do not have to return a second time. Find out the acceptable documents here. (You will get back all of your identifying documents and evidence of citizenship documents in the mail. Don’t sweat it.)

*Do NOT forget your payment and photo when you apply in person.

  • PAYMENT: The typical fee for first time applicants is $125. Most payment locations only accept credit cards, personal checks or money orders. Leave the cash at home. Check here for specifics.
  • PHOTO: Do not staple your photo to any of your paperwork. Your COLOR, 2×2 photo needs to be taken within 6 months of applying to for your passport.

Before we celebrate your new passport, here are a few other key reminders and notes.

  • Don’t make any major changes to your appearance once you’ve had your passport photo taken. They won’t accept the photo if your hair color or eye color is different or if you’ve added a tattoo to your face. (Side note: there is never an okay time to add a tattoo your face, ever!)
  • Make all copies and prints of forms on 8 1/2 x 11 paper.

Smile, you did it! You’ve just applied for your first U.S. Passport! You’re on your way to being a part of the 33% of Americans who hold a passport. Now, go directly to your computer or travel agent and starting planning your trip!