Aug 23, 2009

The Passport Application Process For United States Citizens

Applying for a passport may not be on your top-ten list of things to do, but it is worth your while to take the time to apply for this important document. Not only will it speed you through travel security lines, both inside of and outside of the United States, but it will come in handy for any situation which requires a photo identification that is accepted around the world.

Passports are a verification of who you say you are as well as a confirmation of your citizenship. No other document needs to meet the strict qualifications and supporting evidence that's required to apply for a passport, which is why it is so widely accepted. There are several steps when applying for a first time passport, but since your passport is good for 10 years, and renewal is much easier, you'll only have to go through this level of work once.

Start by locating a passport acceptance and processing office close to you. A United States Post Office meets this requirement and is the most familiar and convenient for many people. Libraries and local government buildings also qualify. You can check in the phone book or visit the web site for the United States Department of State and use their convenient search link. This link lets you search by zip code and distance as well as city and state. You can further refine your search if handicapped access is required and it's worth narrowing the list to those that also produce passport photographs.

Speaking of passport photos, these can't just be your favorite shot from your last vacation. As with a driver's license, the picture must meet certain requirements, such as size and composition. Local copy centers such as Kinko's also typically make passport photos, but if you select a processing site that does this service, you'll be saving yourself an extra trip.

The passport application itself can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of State web site, or picked up at the application center. If you download and print it at home, check it carefully as anything smudged, smeared or illegible will cause it to be rejected.

Use only black ink to fill it in and don't sign it before showing up in person at the processing center. The official will need to witness your signature.

Since citizenship is verified before a passport is issued, you'll also need a certified and embossed Birth Certificate, Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization Certificate. These must be originals, not copies. If you need to write away for a replacement certificate, it's a good idea to order 2 so you'll always have a spare. Photocopies of these important documents are seldom accepted as proof of citizenship.

As you may have guessed, passports aren't free, so be prepared to pay. Fees change over time but the typical cost is around $100.00. Photos are an extra charge, depending on where you have them taken, but typically that's between $10.00 and $20.00. If you're rushed and need your passport expedited, add on more money. Mailing fees can also add up, as sending by a traceable method is highly recommended.

You'll need to wait approximately 2 to 3 weeks to receive your passport, but allow a few more weeks on top of that just to be safe. Starting the application process at least a month or more before you need your passport will allow for any unexpected problems. Soon you'll be the proud owner of a U.S. Passport and will find yourself smiling as you sail though those long security lines at the airport!

C.L. Hendricks has been a Jill-of-all-trades and become an expert in some. She has also traveled extensively and now writes about travel destinations around the world for Family Vacation Spots and Best Vacation Getaways

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