Hassle-free guide to getting your kids’ first passport

Getting your child his or her first passport doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds. Yes, you need to clear an afternoon or morning to the task, and yes, there’s a wait time involved, but the process is simpler than most people realize. Here’s what you need to know:

going-through-customs

Where should I go to get the passport?

In most cases, you’ll need to go to your local post office. I know, I know, but at least it’s better than the DMV, right? To find an office or agency issuing passports in your area, simply plug in your zip code into this site, and get a list of locations.  Many people hope it’s possible to apply for a first passport online or by mail: this is not the case. You’ll need to physically apply in person. And your kids will need to be there too! Call and ask if the office closest to you accepts appointments. If not, prepare to wait in line. Note: most passport offices run on government business hours and close early (ours takes its last passport appointment at 3:45 pm), and are closed on weekends. In order to get the whole family there to apply, you may need to take kids out of school for an hour or so. Annoying? Yes. Necessary? Often.

When should I apply?

Apply at least 12 weeks before international travel. When we applied for our kids’ first passports, they came in the mail well before this time period (more like four weeks), but trust me, you don’t want to sweat it right before your departure. Nor do you want to pay for an expedited process if you don’t have to. Plus, applying early gives you wiggle room should something go wrong: it’s fairly common that photos need to be retaken or addresses get entered incorrectly. This way, you have time to re-do the process.

What passport type does my child need, and how much will it cost?

If you’ll be traveling internationally by air, your child needs a Passport book (the standard passport you’re probably picturing in your mind). If you’ll be traveling by cruise ship, you’ll need to check with your cruise line, as various countries have different requirements, but may be able to travel only with a Passport Card. If you’re traveling by car to Canada, parents will need passport books, but kids can enter the country with valid original birth certificates (as of the time of this posting). However, it’s a much faster process at the border if kids have passport books that can be scanned like their parents’.  Note: if only one parent is bringing kids into Canada from the US, any parent with joint custody must submit a signed letter of consent. Notarize it and bring it with you!

Passport books for kids (0-16 years) are $80 and must be renewed every five years. Passport cards are only $15. Start here to determine eligibility and passport type.

What documents will I need?

When you apply, you must go to the passport office with your child and bring his or her original birth certificate, plus a photo ID for you. You’ll need to give parental consent for the passport, fill out all forms (if you haven’t filled them out at home), and pay all fees. You can download the application right here to save time.

Where should I purchase passport photos?

Passport photos can almost always be taken (and paid for) at the passport office where you apply, but can sometimes be cheaper elsewhere. For convenience, we took our children’s passport photos at the post office when we applied, but if you decide to go elsewhere, make sure the photo is 2″ by 2″, and has the proper background. I’d only trust this task to a photo or portrait business who specializes in passport photos.

Not so hard, right? You’ll be given a receipt onsite, then can expect your passports to arrive in the mail within 12 weeks. Now, you just need tips for going through customs with kids!

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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