This post contains affiliate links. Please see Disclosure and Privacy Policy page for details.

I was already a flight attendant when I got my first passport for work. I was thrilled at the idea of getting my pages filled with stamps to catalog my adventures.
If you are getting your passport for the first time your process will be a little different than a passport renewal.

Getting your first passport

Step 1: Get a photo

They won’t be accepting my cute Instagram selfie that I took with my kids playing in the background. So as mundane as this step may sound it is actually equally as important as all the others. I am going to be honest when we got our kids photos made we went to a CVS.

  • You must face the camera directly with full face in view. (So no, I can’t cock my head sideways and give you my best angle.)
  • You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile with both eyes open. (No winking or fish lips… which wouldn’t be our facial expression with our customs agent either, so this makes sense too.)
  • Your photo must be taken within the last 6 months… so my photo of me prior to having 2 kids back when I looked 20 years younger is out of the question.
  • Your photo must have a plain white or off-white background… I am guessing you are now seeing why I was happy paying someone else to handle this at this stage… but I am going to keep going.
    Be sized correctly (2×2 inches and head must be 1-1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head)… I am not even making this up… see for yourself. They are a tad picky about these photos.
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper. (This seems like the easiest requirement so far.)
    Be printed in color. (I don’t mind some black and white photos of myself, but I am on board with this one.)
  • You cannot wear glasses. (WHAT! Ok!)
  • You cannot wear a hat or head covering. (if there is a medical or religious reason there are some extra steps required here.)
  • You can’t wear headphones or wireless hands-free devices. (This one Should be a no-brainer.)

So… CVS was a piece of cake if you are wondering!

Step 2: Passport forms

DON’T Google this and just click on the first link. Someone near and dear to me did this, clicked the link and signed up for a 3rd party to get her passport. She was essentially paying double to fill out the same exact paperwork and was paying MORE to go through MORE work, not less. This is a link to the government site with the form. Or if you google go to the .gov website!!  The first links you will see will be ads for 3rd party companies that charge way too much and do nothing but give you the same form to fill out that you get for FREE on the  government website.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an online application. If this is your first passport you will need to fill out Form DS-11. You can fill out the form using the form filler on their website, but you will not be able to submit it there. You can’t apply for your passport electronically. You can print out the form and fill it out or use the form filler and print it out. DON’T sign the application. You will need to do so in front of an acceptance agent.
You can elect to get more pages in your passport free of charge, which I highly recommend for frequent travelers, just check the box for a Large book instead of a standard book. Having more pages in your passport now will save you the trouble of having to get more passport pages added later on.

Step 3: Gather evidence of US Citizenship

You will have to prove that you are a US Citizen. You must submit ONE of these, it must be an original or a certified copy. Photocopies and notarized copies aren’t accepted.

  • Fully-valid, undamaged US Passport (may be expired).
  • US birth certificate, and it MUST:
    • Show the city, county, and state of birth
    • List your full name, date of birth, and place of birth
    • List parents full names
    • Have date filed with registrar’s office (must be within one year of birth)
    • Have registrar’s signature
    • Have the seal of the issuing authority
  • Consular report of birth abroad or certificate of birth
  • Certificate of naturalization
  • Certificate of citizenship

This step alone can be daunting. When I get here I decide to clean out my filling cabinet, find old photos that aren’t where they go, wonder why I still have that Sears receipt from 2001 (and tuck it back in there in case I really did need it)… and I get Wwwwaaayyy off track. So congrats on making it this far!  Keep up the hard work… we are making some real progress!

Step 4: Get a copy of the citizenship evidence you are submitting

You will send a copy, front and back of the citizenship evidence you are sending in.
The copy must be legible, on white 8.5 x 11 paper, black and white, and single-sided.  And don’t turn off your copier/printer/fax machine (who even uses a fax machine anymore) just yet, you are gonna need it again. And if you had ink in your printer for the first page, you are sure to run out before you get the next thing printed… ya know, if you have my luck!  With step 4 done, you are halfway there!!


Step 5: You will need to bring an acceptable ID with you to see the acceptance agent

Valid forms of ID:

  • Fully-Valid undamaged (may be expired) US Passport  (and no, I am not sure what exactly they mean when they say a fully-valid, but may be expired… I would think expired means no longer valid… so if you know please message me!)
  • Fully-Valid US driver’s license (if you are presenting an out-of-state ID you will need an additional ID)
  • Certificate of naturalization or citizenship
  • Government employee ID (Federal, state, county or city)
  • US military or dependent ID
  • Valid Foreign passport
  • Mexican Consular ID


Step 6: Get a copy of the ID you will be presenting

Bring a copy, front and back of the ID you will be presenting to the acceptance agent. It must be on white 8.5×11 paper, single-sided and do not decrease the size. Now we are done with the coping portion of things. If you got through that process without having to update software, without running out of printer ink or having to look for more paper I applaud you.  I guess I get a thrill of the possibility of not being able to print off one simple piece of paper as we are always out of ink or paper.


Step 7: Bring two checks

You will need to pay for your passport in 2 separate transactions. One fee will be the application fee that will be sent in the documents to the passport office. The other fee is paid to the acceptance office you are using. You will need to check their website for the fees. (As of April 2018 you will pay a $35. fee to the acceptance office and a $110 fee with the application if you are getting a passport book with standard delivery.) You can pay with personal check, cashier’s check or money order. You can’t pay using credit or debit cards. (I know it’s a shame you aren’t getting some airline miles by paying with your CC, but as of right now that isn’t possible.)


Step 8: Submit your passport application in person

For your first passport, you will need to submit all of this in person at a passport acceptance facility. This process can take 4-6 weeks. You can check the status of your application here.  If you are needing it faster you can pay to expedite it, pay more for faster shipping, or if you will need it in less time you can make an appointment with a passport agency.

You can get your passport quicker if there is an emergency. 

Your first passport is a lot more work than the renewal process. Renewing your passport will be a much simpler process. Your passport lasts for 10 years (5 years for those under 16). Some countries require you still have 6 months left on your passport before you will be admitted. If you are getting ready to travel internationally make sure to check out these tips before you go.

There are many Americans that don’t currently have a passport. I recommend everyone have a valid passport. If someone gave you a free trip to Bali or invited you to stay overnight with them in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives you really wouldn’t want your only thing tying you down that you don’t have a passport. We got a passport for our kids in case we one day found a good deal and had the opportunity to travel internationally with them. It felt like the next week we were on a plane to Paris with them.

Congratulations on getting your application filled out and sent in. Where are you hoping to travel to first?


How to get your first U.S. Passport Whether you are getting ready for an upcoming international trip or you are an avid traveler and know you need to get one, you need to take these steps to getting your first US passport. What documents do you need? Where do you go? Can you do it online? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Can I check the status of my application? All that can be found here. #familytravel #travel