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PASSPORTS: When, how, where… who?

Do I need a passport book? Can I just get the passport card? Where do I go? 

These are all common questions travel advisors are asked. One of the biggest hurdles to traveling outside of the United States is needing a passport, so let’s talk a little bit about United States passports.

Who needs a passport?

Passports are needed for any United States citizen that is traveling outside of the United States, or its territories, to another country. Everyone, yes everyone, needs a passport. From newborn up, every single person in your travel party will need a passport.

Where do I get a passport?

Passports applications can be completed in various locations in your area. Possible locations include, but are not limited to, your local district clerk, local post office, public library, airport, tax office, city offices, courthouse, universities, and other locations. Passport Acceptance Facilities can be searched for here: https://iafdb.travel.state.gov/DefaultForm.aspx

How do I get a passport?

Applying for a passport book is a fairly complex process, but can be done in person at an acceptance facility or passport agency, or by mail. You can choose to fill out the form in person, or use the Travel.State.Gov website’s Form Filler to complete your form online. Forms must be filled out with no errors. Using the Form Filler helps to eliminate that. When filling out your form in the office on paper, if you make a mistake, you must start over with a new form. There are multiple forms to fill out depending on the application you are submitting:

  1. DS - 11: use this form when applying for the first time, you are applying for a child that is under the age of 16, or you cannot renew your passport. 

  2. DS - 82: this is the renewal application. If you have already had a passport, you can use this form if you meet renewal requirements. Children under 16 cannot renew. They must use a new application each time with the DS - 11.

  3. DS - 5504: if you have had a name or information change, or need to replace a passport, you can use this form.

Along with your form you will need several other items when applying or renewing your passport. 

  1. Payment for your passport: passport fees vary based on application, renewal, age of applicant, and other factors. Follow travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/fees.html for more information on passport fees.

  2. Photograph: your photo can be taken in many different places, but it is highly recommended to have a professional take your photo. Photos can normally be taken by any attendant at a local passport office. In my experience, my district clerk has taken the best passport photos for myself, my family, friends, and clients over several years.

  3. Proof of U. S. Citizenship: typically a birth certificate is going to be the most common example of proof of citizenship. It is extremely important that you have the correct birth certificate type. This supporting document will be mailed off with your passport application, but will be returned after your passport is approved and shipped. Some birth certificates are older copies and will be incorrect. In that event, you will need to contact  the county you were born in to inquire about how to get an updated birth certificate with the following requirements:

    1. Issued by the city, county, or state of birth

    2. Lists your full name, date of birth, and place of birth

    3. Lists parents’ full names

    4. Has a signature of the city, county, or state registrar

    5. Has the date filed with registrar’s office

    6. Has the seal or stamp of city, county, or state which issued it

  4. Photo identification: you must provide a physical government photo identification if over the age of 18 or you are the parent or legal guardian of the applicant. If you are a parent or legal guardian and have a current passport, you may use a passport. The form of identification should not be expired.

Additionally, there are specific special circumstances that require other forms for passport application. These situations include reporting your passport lost or stolen, issuing a passport for a child with consent of the other parent, special family circumstances, and others. See FAQ at the end of this document for more questions asked about these situations on a regular basis.

When should I apply for my passport?

If you are considering a trip by sea, land, or air, it is highly recommended that you apply for your passport as soon as possible. Sometimes, passports may take weeks for submission, processing, approval, and then shipment back to the applicant. If there are any issues with your documents or your photo, this can prolong the process. At the time of publication, processing times were as followed:

  1. Routine applications: 6-8 weeks

  2. Expedited: 2-3 weeks (extra payment required for expedition)


Recently, my family chose to plan a vacation to Cancun, Mexico over our Spring Break. While the country of Mexico does not require passports to be valid for six months after travel, many countries do. My husband and I chose to go ahead and renew our children’s passports prior to leaving for Mexico in March in the event that we may decide to travel to another country during the summer months. One of our children has not ever had a passport and two of them have had one, but they are due to expire in May. Passports for children under 16 years of age are only valid for 5 years and you must complete a new application, not a renewal, for children under 16. We also have a closed loop cruise out of Galveston planned in June, and while passports are not required, we feel much better about having them available to use in the event of an emergency.

On December 28, 2023, my husband and myself took time to take our three children to our local county’s district clerk office. Shoutout to Kailie working in this office. She took great care of us and made sure that we had the correct documents, as well as our forms filled out correctly.

Since there are no photographs allowed in the actual office, we took a photo before we entered the office. My oldest child looks thrilled to have to get up on her day out of school to do this.

Our children’s applications were submitted the following day on the 29th, because as we submitted photo identifications we realized my husband’s driver’s license was expired and so we had to run home and get his passport to show photo identification. 

As a test, we submitted one child’s passport with expedited services and the other two with routine service. I signed up for Passport Application Status alerts on the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/status.html

On January 8, 2024, I received our first email that stated the expedited passport application had been received. On January 11th, I received multiple emails with updates. One email stated the expedited passport had been approved, one email stated it had shipped, and one email stated that the supporting documents had been shipped back to me. This expedited passport was received by us on January 16th, only 11 business days after we did the application.

The two passports that were not expedited were in process by January 16th and I received them by January 22nd. This calculates to 15 business days, so extremely fast. 

These timeframes can vary and luckily, we had no issues with documents, forms, or photographs. It is common for passports to take longer due to incorrect documents, forms being filled out incorrectly, or most commonly mistook is the photograph. This is why I stress for passport photos to be taken by a professional.

Passports are complex documents that take some planning to get taken care of and if you do not follow the guidelines listed here or on the Travel.State.Gov website, you could find yourself wasting precious time or not going on a fabulous vacation due to not having your passport book.

If you are considering traveling to a foreign country, begin your passport application today and contact your travel advisor with Coasters and Castles Travel.


Frequently Asked Questions:

I am going on a cruise. Do I need a passport?

  • Passports are not required for closed loop cruises, meaning your cruise starts and ends in a US port. However, passports are highly recommended for many reasons to include emergencies that require you to disembark from your cruise early or needing to fly home from another country unexpectedly. Additionally, when you are disembarking from your cruise there are often two immigration lines. One for passengers with passports and one for passengers with birth certificates. The passport line is typically shorter in most cases.

My child is 16 years old. Do both parents or legal guardians need to be present? 

  • No. At the age of 16 and 17, only one parent or legal guardian needs to be aware that the minor is applying for a passport. Passports approved for a 16 or 17 year old are valid for 10 years.

My child is under the age of 16. His or her other parent is not available to meet up with us to apply for the passport, but approves of the passport. Can we still get my child a passport?

  • Yes. The DS-3053 form will need to be completed and submitted with the child’s passport application, along with that parent’s government photo identification.

My child’s other parent will not allow my child to get a passport and/or we cannot locate that other parent. Can I just get it for them without the other parent’s consent?

  • Both parents must appear or provide consent, unless one parent has sole legal authority. If one of the parents is unable to be located, Form DS-5525, along with additional evidence will be requested.

Passports are expensive. Can I just get a Passport Card?

  • Passport cards are only for land and sea travel from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries. You cannot use a passport card for international air travel.


Jennifer Chappell is a travel advisor with Coasters and Castles Travel.

She specializes in Disney Destinations, Universal, Ocean Cruises & All-Inclusive Resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Contact Jen at JChappell@travelcnc.com or (512)-734-2264 to plan your next getaway!

Follow her on her on Facebook at Coasters & Castles Travel- Jennifer Chappell and Instagram @jensmagicaltravels.

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