About Passports and Visas

TRAVEL - passport Photo Credit: Nicole Harrington

If you’re planning a trip outside the United States and don’t have a passport, better start the application process ASAP. According to the U.S. Department of State, there has been increasingly strong demand for U.S. passports in recent years, which means that putting it off until last minute might result in a delay or cancellation of your journey!

WHN TIP – Check Expiration Date! According to Swift Passport and Visa Service, depending on the country you’re visiting, there may be requirements on how long your passport must be valid after entering. Make sure your passport will still be valid even after your trip is done.

If your trip is unexpected (family or another type of emergency), and you’re currently within the U.S., you can request expedited processing. (For information on how to apply for a U.S. passport outside the United States, visit Apply Outside the United States.) Otherwise, expect to wait at least 4 to 6 weeks for your passport.

WHN TIP – Foreign Country? Passport Needed! According to TripSavvy.com, “it is good practice to bring your passport to every foreign country you visit, including Canada and Mexico. U.S. territories are not foreign countries, therefore you would not always need to have your passport to enter Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or the North Mariana Islands.”

WHN TIP – Real ID Act: The Real ID Act requires all state-issued identification documents (IDs) to meet a set of minimum security standards. IDs that do not meet these minimum security standards won’t be accepted for federal purposes, including as ID for boarding domestic flights. Your state’s IDs might not meet these minimum security standards. Check your state’s status here. The U.S. passport book and U.S. passport card are both accepted by TSA as ID for domestic flights. (Go here to learn the difference.)

How to Apply

*If you qualify to mail in your application (renewal, correction, etc.), mail it in. Do not go to a passport acceptance facility.

NOTE: Passport fees vary. Go here to calculate the cost.

What Form to Use

The type of form is determined by who is applying and other conditions:

  • DS-11
    • Applying for the first time
    • Children under 16 applying or renewing
    • Applicants 16-17 applying
    • Anyone not eligible for Form DS-82
  • DS-82
    • Renewing an adult’s passport
  • DS-5504
    • Changing a name within a year
    • Correcting a passport error
    • Replacing a Limited Validity passport within one or two years

What You’ll Need

If you are applying for a passport, you’ll need the following:

  • Citizenship evidence
  • Identification
  • Proof of relationship (for children under 16)
  • 2″ by 2″ color passport photo. See Passport Photos for requirements and photo examples.

The specific documents you need depend on what form you’re using.

Visa or Passport?

There’s a difference between a visa and a passport. A passport is used by U.S. citizens to visit other countries outside of the United States, including Canada or Mexico.

Visas are needed by:

  • A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States. (Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel.)
  • U.S. citizens who are visiting countries that require a visa. Learn about visa requirements by country, see country information in the International Travel Section section of this website.)

For an overview of visa types, please see Types of Visas for Temporary Visitors or Visa Types for Immigrants.

For more about visas, go here. Go here for country-specific information for every country of the world.

WHN TIP – Get In Step: Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) – a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Photo Credit: Nicole Harrington

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