Getting Passports

American passports are issued by the Department of State and their website has the forms there to download (be sure to read the instructions carefully to see which application form you should use; there are two forms, DSP-11 and DSP-82).

Each person traveling must have his/her own passport; kids no longer can be in Mom or Dad's passport. Our kids are thrilled beyond words (well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but they liked it) to have their own passport with their picture in it.

The most important thing you'll need for a passport is proof that you were born in the U.S., a birth certificate (Americans born abroad, or naturalized Americans, will need different documents which is explained on the Department of State site.

There are many details you will need to be aware of if only one parent will be applying for a U.S. passport for a child under age 14 (i.e., not yet 14 years old). The details are all available from the U.S. Department of State here. Either both parents must appear together and sign the passport application OR one parent appears, signs and submits the second parent's written statement of consent authorizing passport issuance for the child OR one parent appears, signs, and submits primary evidence of sole authority to apply. This can be a bit of a pain and from our experience, it's a lot easier if both parents show up in person.

Note that some countries require one parent traveling with a child to show proof of custody/permission to travel from the non-custodial parent. Check with the Embassy of the country you will visit.

For those born in the U.S., follow this link for information on obtaining vital records in the U.S., such as birth certificates.

You'll need at least two identical photos for each member of your family, even infants. They need to have a light colored or white background and look like this:

You can turn your completed applications in at most U.S. Post Offices and have the completed passports mailed to you (they don't make them at the Post Office). Check when you drop off the forms how long processing is taking these days but like with most things apply early. There are ways of expediting passport issuance, but they cost extra. You can check your passport status here.

Kids' passports are good for five years; grownups' are usually valid for ten years. You can't get a shorter validity one cheaper—one size fits all. When it is time to get a new passport, you can have the old one “cancelled” and then you get to keep it. It is way fun to flip through an old passport and see all those stamps and visas marking many successful trips abroad.

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