How Do You Get a Passport, and What Does It Cost?

Costs, Steps, and Tips for Renewing or Getting Your Passport

Young woman at airport holding U.S. Passport looks at departures screen.

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A passport can open the world to you, and you definitely don’t want to leave home without it if you’re traveling beyond U.S. borders. It will be required to prove your citizenship and gain entry to another country, as well for readmittance to the U.S. when you come back home. 

Even if you’re not a jet-setter, a passport can serve as a good primary piece of identification in lieu of a driver’s license. Getting a passport and keeping it current can have several benefits.

Here’s what you need to know to get or renew a passport, including steps required, fees, and ways to make the process as seamlessly as possible.

What Is a Passport?

A passport is a document issued by an authorized official of a country to one of its citizens and is usually necessary for exit and re-entry into the country. In the U.S., that authority is the U.S. Department of State. A passport allows a citizen to travel in a foreign country in accordance with visa requirements, and requests safe passage for the citizen while abroad. 

Typically, they are small booklets containing information such as the bearer’s name, place of birth, date of birth, issue and expiration dates, passport number, photo, and signature. There are several types of passports, depending on the status of the bearer in their home country.

When Do You Need a Passport?

You don’t need a passport to travel domestically; a driver’s license or state-issued identification card will suffice. But if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need a passport to verify your identity and nationality. The State Department recommends passport ownership for U.S. citizens with family living or traveling abroad, anyone thinking about a vacation abroad, or those with a job that could require international travel. Expect to show it at border crossings if road-tripping across U.S. borders, or multiple times at the airport if flying to another country.

The good news? You only need to renew your passport every 10 years, unless you were under age 16 when your current passport was issued. In that case, it is valid for only five years.

How Do You Get a Passport?

Schedule an Appointment

If you’re getting your first passport, you can apply at any U.S. Post Office. Because of COVID-19, you’ll need to use the online scheduler or a Post Office lobby self-service kiosk to make an appointment for passport services to ensure the safety of postal employees and customers.

Know What You’ll Need

There are a handful of items that must be included with your application. One of those is a photo. The color, high-resolution photo, matte, or glossy photo-quality paper, should have been taken in the last six months. It must be 2 x 2 inches, the view of the head must be between 1 to 1 3/8 inches in depth, from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. The background should be white or a neutral color. Have someone take the photo; selfies are not permitted. 

Take off glasses, hats, or head coverings, wear everyday clothing, and be sure your full face is visible when getting your passport photo taken.

Bring Original and Photocopy of Your Proof of Identity 

Be sure to copy both sides of all documents, if they contain information. Photocopies should be on white, 8 ½ x 11 paper in black and white. You cannot submit digital evidence like an electronic or mobile birth certificate. Your birth certificate must be issued by the city, county, or state of birth, list your full name, date of birth and place of birth, include parents’ full names, have the signature of the city, county or state registrar, have the date filed with registrar’s office, and the seal of issuing authority. 

Not born in the U.S.? You can submit a valid, but expired U.S. Passport, consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth, certificate of naturalization, or certificate of citizenship.

Estimate Your Fees  

Application fees and execution (acceptance) fees are paid separately (see more details on fees below). Be sure to have two checks or money orders available to accompany your passport application package. Fees cannot be paid by debit or credit card.

Renew Your Passport

If you already have a passport, be sure you don’t wait until the last minute to renew. Most people can simply renew their passport by mailing it directly to the State Department’s National Passport Processing Center. Understand, though, that the passport should be in your current name, issued within the last 15 years and when you were 16 or older, undamaged, and submitted with your renewal application. If your passport doesn’t meet all the criteria, you have to prepare the same application package as a first-timer passport seeker.

Given the importance of your documents, use a USPS delivery tracking service. You’ll want to feel confident that your package was received. Get tracking information on USPS Tracking.

How Much Does a Passport Cost?

Know that application fees and execution (acceptance) fees are paid separately. For those 16 and older applying for the first time, the passport book application fee is $110, while a passport card, if desired, costs $30. Or, you can get both a passport book and card for $140. The additional execution fee of $35 covers all those options. For people 16 and over who are renewing a passport, the same fees apply. 

All children under 16 must apply in person, and fees are as follows: $80 for a passport book, $15 for a passport card, and $95 for a passport book and card. All execution fees are $35.

No worries if you need your passport in a hurry. You will pay more for that privilege, though, as there’s an additional $60 expedite fee. You can find out more about expedited services on the agency website at Get My Passport Fast. If you need delivery in one to two days, there’s a further shipping charge of $17.13.

Fees can be paid by certified, personal, cashier’s, and traveler’s checks, and money orders payable to U.S. Department of State. Some locations may accept cash in exact change.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Passport Applications?

Gone is the big backlog of applications that piled up during COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, so you won’t have to wait as long for a passport or renewal now. According to the State Department, you can now apply for routine service and expect to receive your passport in 10-12 weeks. If you’re willing to pay an extra $60, you can cut the wait time to four to six weeks. Those times apply if you’re submitting by mail and in person at acceptance facilities like post offices and libraries.

All of the State Department’s agencies and centers are again processing passport applications after some shutdowns related to the pandemic. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees and customers, the State Department is prioritizing in-person appointments at its agencies and centers for customers who are traveling internationally in the next 72 hours (three business days) due to a life-or-death emergency, such as serious illness, injury, or death in your immediate family.

Many State Department passport agencies and centers are offering a limited number of appointments for customers who have urgent international travel in the next 72 hours for reasons other than a life-or-death emergency. For the latest information about operations amid COVID-19, check with the State Department here or at its passport Frequently Asked Questions page.

Key Takeaways

  • A passport is mandatory for most international travel.
  • Most new passports and renewals prepared routinely cost up to $175, depending on what formats you want.
  • Plan to get a passport months before you need it for a trip.
  • A passport is a good primary piece of identification.
  • You can get your passport in four to six weeks for an extra $60 expedite fee.