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4 Steps to Applying for a US Passport for the First Time

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I am writing this post specifically for the Americans who have yet to get a passport. Applying for a US passport for the first time is pretty straightforward, so I’ll use this post to walk through the steps.

Now, there is a myth out there that less than 20% of Americans have passports, but thankfully that is not the case. According to the U.S. Department of State, there are currently 136 million passports in circulation.

This means that about 42% of the population currently has an active passport. This is a drastic change from even the year 2000, when only 17% of the population had a passport.

We still have a way to go when compared to our counterparts in Canada where 66% hold a passport or Britain where 76% hold a passport. So let’s see what we can do to get us past the 50% mark (at least)!

RELATED: Mobile Passport vs. Global Entry

Step 1 | Getting Your Passport Photo

These days there are many ways to get your passport photo taken. You can choose the method that is the most easy for you:

Online / Via App

This is a newer and cheaper option for getting passport photos. Each of the options below offers guidance on taking photos that meet passport standards:

  • ItsEasy Passport Renew & Photo: You can use this app to take your photos and then either have them delivered to you electronically for you to print at home or shipped to you for $5.95.
Passport Photo on standard white background
  • Passport Photo Booth: This app also offers free electronic delivery of your photos for at home printing or delivery for $5.96
  • .Passport Photo – ID Photo: This app offers free electronic delivery of your photos, although you do have to pay $2 to unlock color photos.

In Person

This is the standard method of getting passport photos and more expensive than using an app. On the upside, these require less effort on your part as you do not have to print yourself:

  • Local Pharmacy: You can visit most Walgreen, CVS, or Rite Aid locations to get your photos for $14.99. Click each link for more information on which pharmacies offer these services. 
  • AAA: If you have a AAA membership, you may get your photos done at your local AAA office for $8 (or $15 if you aren’t a member). Just walk in to get them taken – no need to book an appointment. 
  • Post Office: You may get photos done at many local post offices as well for $15. Click here for more information on passport services offered by post offices. 

Note: You can use the same photos used for passports for most visa applications.

Step 2 | Completing the Application

New applicants have to complete the DS-11 form as the main part of the application. This form requires information such as full name, address, birth place and parental information. This application can be used for the following:

  • Passport Book: This is the “normal” passport for all international travel, which costs a total of $145 ($110 – Application Fee + $35 – Execution Fee)
  • Passport Card: This card may be used for land and sea port entry to Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card costs a total of $65 ($30 – Application Fee + $35 – Execution Fee)

You may apply for both for $175, as you only have to pay for the execution fee once.

Step 3 | Gathering Your Required Documents

You have to present the following types of ID when applying for a US passport for the first time:

  • Citizenship Evidence: You must use a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or certificate of citizenship to meet this requirement. You must bring both the original document and a photocopy of the document when applying.
  • Identification Document: You may bring documents such as a valid driver’s license, government employee ID, or US military ID to meet this requirement. You must bring both the original document and a photocopy of the document when applying.

Please visit this page from the State Department for more information on required documents for first time passport applications.

A Consular Report of Birth Abroad may be used as a certificate of citizenship when applicable

RELATED: How to Apply for Global Entry

Step 4 | Visit Passport Acceptance Facility to Apply

Most often you will visit your local post office to apply for your first passport. Note, you do not have the option to apply via mail for your first passport. But you will for future renewals!

To find the passport acceptance facility closest to you, visit this State Department site. Here you can type in your zip code and search for locations within specific mile ranges. 

Once you have determined which site you will visit, gather your complete application, citizenship evidence, identification document, and passport photo. Don’t forget photocopies of the latter two items!

When you arrive, the person working your case will review your application for completion. They may ask a few questions to validate your identity as well. Note, some locations require appointments before you visit, so please check before you go.

Receive Your Passport!

You’ve now completed all the steps required for applying for a US passport for the first time! Once you apply, you will receive your passport in 4-6 weeks. If necessary / desired, you can expedite the request for an additional $60. With this option you’ll get your passport in 2-3 weeks.

After you receive your passport, you are now ready to get out there and see the world! If you don’t already have your passport, I charge you to apply today!

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4 Steps to Applying for a US Passport for the First Time


  1. This is a good post not just for Americans but for myself here in South Africa to know the ways of getting a passport generally. Great post

  2. I’ve always wondered what went into getting a passport. It actually isn’t as tedious as I thought other than finding my documents. I’d like to eventually travel to Europe to see some of the beautiful castles and of course drink some great beer. Thanks for the info!

  3. Hi Christen! πŸ™‚

    Thank yo for sharing this information with us! It will definitely help one of my friends, who’s planning to obtain a US passport. I just wonder, do you need any additional documents, such as police certificates, or is it something required for applications prior to application for a passport.

    Because I know Canada asks for these kinds of documents. But I’m sure it’s everywhere.

    1. Of course! That’s very interesting – They don’t ask for additional information beyond the documents required to verify citizenship / identity here. Always interesting to see how things are done differently around the globe πŸ™‚

  4. Really a great post for people needing to get a passport. I think it can kinda be overwhelming if you’re not sure what to do and this spells it out perfectly.

  5. Hi Christen,

    Great post. As a Brit, I have always wondered why so many Americans don’t have passports ????
    For those who are eligible for an American passport, you’ve made it as easy as ABC!!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Best regards,

  6. I recently had to renew my passport and it was a process I had done before so it went fairly smooth….except for forgetting to sign the document and haven’t to mail a signed one to them later…causing delays! Anyway! 10 years ago, when I was getting a new passport and doing it by myself for the first time, I would have SO APPRECIATED being able to read this post! I’m glad you have this out there for others! Thank you!!

    1. Oh I’m so sorry to hear that, Carlie – hopefully you didn’t have to delay any of your travels :). Glad to hear you think the article is helpful!


  7. I remember when I got my first passport back in 2010. Though I did it through the post office, I wish I knew about the online and the app way. Would’ve been much easier for me since I needed it in a hurry. Great post with accurate information for those going for their first one.

  8. Hi thanks for the information very informative and easy to understand and follow, I would like to know if I am not an American how to apply for a passport?

    1. Hi Charlie! Great question, I’m not sure I can be the most helpful here. What I recommend is that you google the name of your country + passport, and then visit the official site that can provide you with specific details.

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