Your child’s first international trip involves a lot of planning and preparation, including making sure that you apply for his or her passport in plenty of time. A child passport has some different requirements than applying for an adult passport – make sure that you know what you have to do (including when and where!) before you cost yourself extra in time, money and worry.

Applying for a Child PassportMy teenage daughter’s high school robotics team is traveling to Calgary for a competition over spring break. How cool is that – such an incredible opportunity for her! I’ve known that this trip is coming for a few months now, and we were warned right away that because this is an international trip for the students, we would need to start working on a passport application if our teen did not already have one. Our daughter had never traveled outside the U.S. before, so I added ‘apply for Abbi’s passport’ to my long to-do list.

I never expected that this process would be as time-consuming or as much of a headache as it turned out to be, mostly due to errors that I made. Having applied for my own passport a few years ago, I thought I had the process down, but it’s different for minors than for adults, and even though I thought I was researching things correctly, I was not.

Don’t make my mistakes! Here are three things to avoid doing, and what you can do instead to ensure that your child passport application process goes as smoothly as possible.

Mistake #1 – Putting off applying for the passport for too long.

Yes, April seemed very far away – in January. And even in early February. Spring Break? Oh that’s weeks and weeks away… Until it’s not, and suddenly it’s early March and you’re frantically researching about options to get the passport here in time and hoping there won’t be any problems which could delay it.

Remember: Standard passport processing takes six weeks, so apply for your child’s passport with plenty of time to spare. If you do procrastinate (cough), you can apply for expedited processing, which takes three weeks and comes with a $60 extra fee on top of the $80 you’re already paying for a child passport. If necessary, you can also pay extra for overnight delivery of a passport book. Don’t forget the passport photo! If you don’t want to spend the money to get one taken, here are some tips on taking your own.

Mistake #2 – Not realizing that a child under the age of 16, along with BOTH parents, must be present to apply for a child passport.

Between school and robotics practices, Abbi wasn’t home very often during regular business hours in February and March. When we finally got serious about getting this child’s passport application done, we realized that my husband was about to leave on a business trip. We were already pushing the three week deadline for expedited processing, so couldn’t wait another week before applying for the passport.

Remember: For kids who are 15 or younger, both parents AND the child need to apply in person for a child passport. If one parent is deceased, you need to bring the death certificate. If you are a single parent, you need to bring a court order either granting you sole legal custody or giving permission for you to apply for the passport. No photocopies are accepted. If the second parent is not able to come in person, you do have the option of bringing a signed, notarized Form DS-3053: Statement of Consent instead, along with a photocopy of the parent’s ID. This worked well for us.

Mistake #3 – Not checking reliable sources when searching for information.

Search engines are very handy, but you have to make sure that you’re paying attention to what search results you’re clicking on and that they’re from reputable or trusted sources. When looking for the hours that our local post office would accept passport applications, I was in a hurry (see mistake #1 above) so I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. I searched for ‘passport office *name of my town* and clicked on the first result that came up. The site looked official and had a lot of information about applying for passports.

According to that site, our local post office accepted passport applications between the hours of 9:00 am and 4:30 pm. We found out when we arrived at 3:30 pm that they actually only accept passport applications until 1:30 pm – and that information is clearly stated on both the official post office website and the U.S. State Department’s website. Neither of these sites came up first on a Google search for me and I didn’t double-check the information or the source, so we had to make a separate trip back – and take our daughter out of school for an hour to get there before 1:30pm.

Remember: The State Department’s website has all of the official information about when, how and where to apply for passports, including a search function where you can find the closest Passport Acceptance Facility and see what their hours are. Rather than trust search engine results, make sure that you are checking the most reliable source.

Mistakes aside, we (finally) successfully applied for our daughter’s passport and were very pleasantly surprised when it arrived after only nine days, leaving us almost a two-week buffer to get everything else ready for her trip. Sending our daughter out of the country for a week without us is a new experience, but at least this is one more thing we can check off the list as we get prepared.