Obtaining a U.S. Passport

One of the biggest benefits of obtaining U.S. citizenship is the American passport. A United States passport not only gives you the privilege of visiting more than 185 countries around the world visa-free* (as in you can just buy a ticket, hop on a plane and visit those countries – you don’t have to apply for a visa at their consulate or embassy), but also allows Americans visiting other countries to get help from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate during emergencies.

A U.S. passport will contain the passport holder’s identification details such as their name, photo, gender, date of birth and other key details. It is the most common form of I.D. used to verify citizenship for Americans travelling abroad and re-entering the United States.

*The list of countries that allow visa-free entry to U.S. citizens can change at any time. Please visit the embassy/consulate website of the country you intend to visit to find out up-to-date visa requirements before making any travel plans.

How to Apply For a U.S. Passport as a New Citizen

New citizens (i.e. permanent residents obtaining U.S. citizenship for the first time) have to apply for their U.S. passports in person at a designated passport acceptance facility.

Here are the steps needed to put together a U.S. passport application:

  1. Complete Form DS-11 – the first step is to download, print and fill-in form DS-11 from the U.S. Department of State website. This form can be filled on the computer and printed out, or printed out and filled by hand.
  2. Gather Supporting Documents That Prove the Applicant’s Citizenship – First time applicants need to submit any of the following documents to prove their citizenship status: Certificate of Citizenship, Certificate of Naturalization, U.S. birth certificate or Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth. Only original documents or certified copies of the original documents may be submitted with the DS-11 application.
  3. Have valid government-issued photo I.D. to show the acceptance agent when handing in your application.  Acceptable forms of photo I.D. are: In-state non-expired driver’s license; Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization; non-expired foreign passport (this only applies to first time U.S. passport applicants); U.S. military or military dependent ID; County, City, State or Federal Government employee ID; Matricula Consular; Green Card; Tribal Cards (with photos); U.S. Customs and Border issued Trusted Traveller IDs such as NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST.
  4. Include a Passport Size Photo – A photo taken within six months of submitting the application must be included. The Department of State website has detailed instructions on how to take a valid passport photo. Check for local vendors in your area (drug stores or Walmart photo studios) that can take a passport photo for you at minimal cost.
  5. Pay All Necessary Fees – Applying for a passport has a fee associated with it, and you need to pay in full when submitting your papers. The fee varies depending on various factors such as the age of the applicant, whether you regular or expedited processing, etc. To find out how much your passport application will cost and how to pay the fees please visit the Department of State’s Passport Fee Calculator page.
  6. Hand in Your Application – The final step is to submit the application to your nearest passport acceptance facility. Walk-in applications are rarely accepted, so be sure to call ahead and make an appointment. First time applicants will have to submit their papers in person and show valid photo I.D. to the accepting agent. Passport acceptance facilities can be post offices, public libraries, local courthouses and other government offices. To find your nearest facility please visit this page on the Department of State website.

Tips for Submitting a Successful Passport Application

Not having all the required documents may result in delays or even rejection of your passport application. You can always apply again but that will waste time and money, so it pays to get everything right the first time. Here are some tips on avoiding common pitfalls when submitting a passport application:

  • If you don’t have or are unable to include your primary citizenship documents then you will have to include secondary citizenship evidence.
  • Only original U.S. citizenship evidence is typically accepted in passport applications – in some cases where original documentation cannot be included then a certified copy can be used instead.
  • Keep in mind that sending certified copies instead of original documents has a high chance of getting your application delayed. For the fastest processing always include original citizenship documents.
  • Photocopies of original documents must be on standard letter-size paper (8.5×11 inches). The copies should be clear, in black and white, and on single sided paper.
  • Digital proof of U.S. citizenship cannot be submitted, except under exceptional circumstances. In almost all passport applications physical paper evidence will have to be used.
  • Documents in foreign languages have to be accompanied with certified English translations.
  • Documents must be provided for any legal name changes the applicant may have had in the past.
  • All evidentiary documents submitted with an application will be returned to the applicant.
  • Additional documents may be requested to process the application, so be ready to provide them in a timely manner to minimize delays.

How Long Does the U.S. Passport Application Take?

The processing time for a DS-11 application is typically 4 to 6 weeks. Expedited processing services are available for an extra fee, cutting wait times to as little as one or two days. Please bear in mind during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis the State Department has cancelled expedited passport processing services.

If you need help putting together a successful passport application please contact an experienced immigration lawyer today.