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Your child’s first international trip involves getting a passport. Guess what? The application requirements for a passport for kids are different than for an adult. Who knew? Don’t make these mistakes and the application process will go as quickly and smoothly as possible.
A few years ago, my teenager’s high school robotics team traveled to Calgary for a competition over spring break. How cool is that – such an incredible opportunity! I’d known that this trip was coming for a few months beforehand. The coaches warned us that since this was an international trip, we would need to start working on a passport right away. Our teen had never traveled outside the U.S. before, so I added ‘apply for 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. I had applied for my own passport a few years previously, so I thought I had the process down. However, 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! Read on for things to avoid, and what you can do instead to ensure that your child passport application process goes as smoothly as possible.
How to Apply for a Passport for Kids
Yes, April seemed very far away – in January. And even in early February. Spring break? Oh that was weeks and weeks away… Until suddenly it was early March and I was frantically researching options to get the passport here in time.
Timing is everything
Standard passport processing times are up to six weeks, so apply for your child’s passport with plenty of time to spare. If you do procrastinate (cough), you can apply for an expedited passport. This takes three weeks and costs $60 extra on top of the $80 you’re already paying for the child passport. If necessary, you can also pay even more for overnight delivery of a passport book.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t forget the passport photo! If you don’t want to spend the money to get one taken, see these tips on taking your own.
You can fill out the application form online (form DS-11) – and this will help save time when you go into the passport acceptance facility. Once you’ve filled everything out, print the entire application to take with you. Make sure you print in black ink, on one-sided pages. If you aren’t able to fill out the application online, there are paper copies at the passport acceptance facilities.
Do I Need a Passport Appointment?
If you’re not in a hurry, you can apply at a local Passport Application Acceptance Facility. However, if you’re leaving in less than two weeks you’ll need to visit one of the 24 Regional Passport Agencies in the US. Many post offices or city offices are passport acceptance facilities – but not all of them have walk-in hours available. Check to see if an appointment is required before you make the drive!
Bring EVERYONE to the passport agency
The requirement is that BOTH parents or legal guardians need to be present IN PERSON at the time of application. Both parents must show a valid identification document, such as a driver’s license, passport or naturalization certificate. A valid government employee or military ID is also acceptable. You must also bring a photocopy of the front and back of each ID you present. The copies have to be on plain white letter-sized (8.5″x11″) single-sided paper.
You also need to bring your child IN PERSON to apply for his or her passport. Between school and robotics practices, my teen wasn’t home very often during regular business hours that February and March. When we finally got serious about getting the 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.
What if both parents can’t appear in person?
In the case of a deceased parent, you need to bring the death certificate. If you are a single parent, you need to bring a birth certificate of adoption decree listing you as the only parent. Or provide a court order either granting you sole custody or giving permission for you to apply for the passport. No photocopies are accepted.
For a second parent/guardian who is not able to come in person, you do have the option of bringing a signed, notarized Form DS-3053: Statement of Consent instead. You must also bring a photocopy of both sides of the parent’s photo ID. If the second parent cannot be located, submit Form DS-5525: Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances and provide evidence such as a custody order, incarceration order, or restraining order.
What Do I Need to Bring to Apply for a Passport for Kids?
Proof of U.S. citizenship
You’ll need to provide proof that your child is a U.S. citizen. This can be a valid U.S. birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or a consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth. You must provide the original, certified, physical copy. No photocopies are allowed for this evidence. The birth certificate will need to be sent in with your application, but will be returned to you by mail after the application has been processed. It’ll come back to you in a separate mailing from the passport.
Along with the original, certified copy of citizenship evidence, you need to also provide a black-and-white photocopy of the front (and back, if there’s any information there) of the document. The copy must be printed on letter-sized (8.5″x11″) paper and single-sided. If you don’t want to send a photocopy, you can send a second original document. Just be aware that you won’t get that second copy back.
Proof of parental relationship
If you’re submitting your child’s U. S. birth certificate or a consular report of birth abroad as citizenship evidence, you’re all set. Otherwise, you’ll need to provide an original copy of a foreign birth certificate, adoption decree or divorce/custody decree to prove parental relationship.
If your last name is different from your child’s, that’s fine – as long as the document you bring as proof of parental relationship has your full name. If your name has changed since the parental relationship document was issued, you’ll need to also bring proof of name change or a marriage certificate.
What Size is a Passport Photo?
The photo needs to be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in total size. Within that, the child’s head must be between 1 inch to 1-3/8 inches (25-35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. A passport photo needs to be in color and taken within the last six months. Make sure the background is plain white or off-white, and if your child wears eyeglasses, take them off. If your child is wearing a face mask in a retail store or post office, you must also take it off for the photo.
At many passport acceptance facilities you can get your photo taken right there, or you can have one taken at various retail locations. Our family has used Walgreens, where I paid $9.99 for two copies of the passport photo – versus paying $15 for one photo at my local post office. Not every passport acceptance facility has the ability to take photos, so make sure to check.
Can I take my own passport photos?
You can take your own photo of your child if you choose, but make sure it meets the passport photo requirements as described above. Otherwise, you could end right back up at square one and need to retake your child’s picture. This isn’t the time for those fun social media filters – the picture needs to be clear and filter-free.
Make sure that your child is facing the camera and has a neutral expression. This can be hard, especially with small kids. Just remember to be patient and build in extra time.
How Much Does a Passport for Kids Cost?
Passports are not cheap – so keep this in mind as one of your travel expenses. As of 2021, a basic child passport book (non-expedited), costs $80, plus a $35 execution fee. If you need expedited service to get your passport sooner, it’ll add an extra $60 to your total. Double-check the fees online before you head to the passport acceptance facility so that you know exactly how much you’ll need to bring with you.
The passport fee is an additional fee that is paid separately from the execution/application fee. Not all passport acceptance facilities accept credit cards, so make sure to check before you go. Checks for passport fees need to be made out to the U.S. Department of State. The execution fee is paid directly to the passport acceptance facility.
Use Reputable Sources
Search engines are very handy, but you have to make sure that you’re paying attention to what search results you’re clicking on. You also need to check that they’re from reputable or trusted sources. When first researching I was in a hurry so 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. However, we found out when we arrived at 3:30 pm that they actually only accept passport applications until 1:30 pm. 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 since I didn’t double-check the information or the source, we had to make a separate trip back, and take our teen out of school for an hour to get there before 1:30pm.
The State Department’s website has all of the official information about when, how and where to apply for passports. There is also 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.
How to Renew a Passport for Kids
Your child’s US passport will be good for five (5) years and cannot be renewed. You will need to re-apply for a new passport.
Can We Use a Passport Card Instead?
If you’re going to be crossing the border only through Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry, you can use a passport card instead of a passport book. This option is less expensive ($15 for a child’s passport card) and more convenient, but passport cards can’t be used for international travel by air. Make sure you’re choosing the option that’s best for you and your travel needs. You can apply for them together, although there’s no cost savings other than paying one execution fee instead of two.
Once you have your child’s passport, take a moment to breath. Then you can start worrying about all of the other details!