Tips for Getting a Passport for a Child in the U.S.

Before getting a passport for our son, I had no idea that there are a few extra steps when getting a passport for a child. Up until now, most of our family travel with our son had been in the United States. (As it turns out, you don’t need a passport for a cruise stop in Bermuda!) While cumbersome, the extra steps make total sense when you think about from a safety standpoint. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when getting a a passport for a child in the US.

Tip #1: Give Yourself Enough Time to Obtain the Passport

This applies for both adults and kids alike. Passport processing usually takes about 4-6 weeks after your application is submitted. In addition to the processing, be sure to factor in the amount of time you need to take a passport photo and make an appointment. (We needed a Saturday appointment and actually had to wait 4 weeks to get one.) Ideally you want to start the process at least 2 months out to be on the safe side.

Tip #2: Plan for Both Parents to be Present at the Passport Acceptance Location

When applying for a passport for a child under the age of 16, it has to be done in person at an approved passport acceptance facility. Both parents should be present at the appointment, since they are both required to demonstrate parental consent. In some circumstances that may not be possible, and the following exceptions are made:

  • If one parent has sole legal authority, evidence of this must be submitted with the application. (i.e. court order, birth certificate with only one parent listed, death certificate, etc.)
  • If one parent is unable to appear, he/she must give permission by completing Statement of Consent (Form DS-3053.) The parent not at the appointment must have this form notarized. The form must be then submitted along with the application, in addition to a photocopy of the same ID used for notarization.
  • If one parent can’t be located, Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances (Form DS-5525) must be completed.

Tip #3: Determine if you Need an Appointment at Your Local Passport Agency

The most common places to apply for a passport are AAA and the US Post Office. Most USPS locations in particular require an appointment prior to applying for your child’s passport. We found that when going with a toddler, having a scheduled appointment (and the first available of the day) was ideal to avoid long lines. If you do need an appointment, keep in mind that some places fill up rather quickly, especially if you need a Saturday appointment. At our nearby US Post Office locations, appointment openings were only available 3 weeks out and Saturday appointments filled up quickly.

To identify your closest passport acceptance facilities and determine if an appointment is needed, go here.

Tip #4: Take a Good Passport Photo

Passport photos must be 2×2″ and meet the U.S. Department of State’s criteria for passport photo. While you always have the option of taking and printing the pictures yourselves, getting a passport photo for a child can be a little trickier. (If your kid is anything like mine, he only smiles for a picture when I ask him not to!) It’s important to make sure your photo meets the specifications to avoid having your application sent back and further delay the process.

Option 1: Have the Passport Photo Done Professionally

One of the easiest ways to get a passport photo is to have it done at one of the places listed below.

  • A pharmacy like CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid. (Call first to be sure they have photo services available.) We got our son’s done at CVS. It was a quick and easy process, and I loved that they checked the photo and dimensions to ensure it met the criteria.
  • Membership stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and AAA.
  • A passport acceptance locations like the US Postal Service. You can often get them done at the same time as applying for the passport itself.

Keep in mind there is a fee to use the services above, and it’s typically $15 or less for 2 photos.

Option 2: Take Your Passport Photo at Home

In the case of infants, alternatively, taking a passport picture at home may be easier. You can do this by laying the baby on a white sheet or covering the car seat with a white sheet to take the picture there. Keep in mind there can’t be anyone else in the picture or holding the baby’s head up.

There are also Apps available to help you properly size and analyze your passport photos if you choose to take them at home. Some of the highest rated Apps for passport photos include: Passport Photo- ID Photo, Passport Photo Booth, and ID Photo- Passport Photo Maker.

Tip #5: Print and Complete the Application Form Before Your Appointment

Passport acceptance agencies are often on tight 15 minute windows for your appointment, and there’s a lot to cover during that time. To speed up the process during your appointment, I highly recommend printing out Form DS-11 and completing it in advance. Keep in mind the following:

  • Don’t sign the form or complete the sections required by the acceptance agent until asked to do so.
  • Your child’s Social Security number is required to complete the form.
  • You child’s height is needed to complete the form.
  • If you plan to do a lot of travel abroad, you can request a larger passport book at no extra charge for a child on this form.

Tip #6: Ensure You Have Proper Documentation for Your Child’s Proof of U.S. Citizenship

An original or certified copy is required for proof of U.S. Citizenship, so make sure you have an appropriate document before you start the process. Below are the accepted documents for proof of U.S. citizenship for a child. Keep in mind that you only need one of the below to submit with your passport application:

  • U.S. birth certificate with all fields completed appropriately and a seal of issuing authority*
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad*
  • Valid U.S. passport (can be expired)
  • A photocopy of the document you decide to submit is also required (USPS or AAA can typically make one for you if you’re not able to)

*These documents are recommended since they can be submitted for both proof of citizenship and parental relationship (see below.)

As an aside, I was 19 when I got my first passport. While the process is a little easier at that age, my Mom couldn’t find my birth certificate and we had to request a new one from the little town in New Jersey that I was born in. I BARELY got it in time to get my passport before the trip. Lesson learned!

Tip #7: Be Prepared to Demonstrate Parental Relationship Through Document(s) and ID

When obtaining a passport for your child, you need to demonstrate parental relationship and provide your ID. The accepted documents to demonstrate parental relationship include:

  • U.S. birth certificate
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad 
  • Foreign birth certificate
  • Adoption or divorce/ custody decree

Parents also need to show both originals and copies of a valid ID to the passport acceptance agent. Accepted ID forms include:

  • Valid In-State Driver’s license (cannot be expired)
  • Valid U.S. or foreign passport (U.S. passport can be expired)
  • Certification of Naturalization or Citizenship
  • U.S. Military or government employee ID
  • Mexican Consular Identification

Note: A photocopy of the parents’ valid ID is also needed. It must be of the front and back of the ID on regular 8 1/2 x 11 paper and cannot be double sided.

Additional Tips for Getting a Passport for Your Child

  • You must apply for a passport for a child under 16 in person.
  • Bring a check with you to the acceptance agency for payment. Fees can be found on TSA’s website here. (Some locations like the post office can also do a certified cashier’s check for a small fee if you’re like us and forget yours.)
  • Passports for children under 16 only last 5 years (versus adult passports that last 10 years)
  • Children 16-17 can apply for a passport without both parents if they have their own valid, accepted form of photo identification. Parental awareness must still be demonstrated in one of two ways. 1.) One parent can go with the child and sign the passport application or 2.) One parent can complete a notarized statement authorizing the child to obtain a passport.
  • If multiple people in your family are applying for a passport at the same time, they will be mailed back in separate envelopes.
  • As always, be sure to also reference the U.S. Department of State’s travel website directly. It can be found here.

Please share in the comments if you have anything else to add. Happy travels!!

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