Passports Online

Category: Reference

If you are a U.S. citizen and plan to travel outside the United States, you'll most likely need a passport. Recently I found this out the hard way. I arrived at Newark airport bound for Jamaica, and ended up in Phoenix Arizona the next day...

Getting a Passport

Last month I was supposed to attend a 5-day conference in Jamaica. My airline and hotel reservations were all in order, and I showed up at the airport early on a Sunday morning. I didn't have a passport, but I had been told by the travel agent that an original birth certificate was sufficient to enter Jamaica. So I brought my driver's license, social security card, and the only birth certificate I had, which was issued by the hospital where I was born. It was signed by the attending physician, embossed with an official seal, and even had my little baby footprints on the back.

Not good enough, said the surly ticket agent. In the absence of a passport, an "official, certified" birth certificate, issued by the county where I was born, was the only acceptable form of identification. Thwarted from entering Jamaica, I went to Arizona, which has more porous borders.

apply for a passport

After my return, I decided to get a passport, and found that the State Department also requires an "official, certified" birth certificate. My first thought was that I'd have to spend hours trying to find the right clerk, in the right office, in the right county, make a long distance phone call, jump through hoops, and then pay big bucks to get an official copy of my birth certificate.

Ordering Your Birth Certificate

Hospital birth certificate?  Not good enough...
Fortunately, that's not the case. In most cases, you can accomplish the entire process of ordering your birth certificate online, in just a few minutes. My research led me to VitalChek, which will link you with the state, county or city agency that houses your personal vital records; including birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates. After providing proof of your identity, you can order the document online, and pay the fee (usually between $10 and $20) with a credit card.

Online Passport Application

A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue or verify United States passports. So your next stop on the journey to getting a passport is the U.S. State Department Passport Services Office website.

If you've never gotten a passport before, or if your passport is more than 15 years old, you'll have to print and fill out the online passport application and then submit the form in person to a passport acceptance facility. You'll need the following items along with your passport application:

  • two photographs of yourself
  • proof of U.S. citizenship (your certified birth certificate)
  • a valid form of photo identification (your driver's license)

Women who have changed their name due to marriage will also need their marriage certificate, since the married name will not match the name on the birth certificate. If you're divorced, it might be a good idea to bring the divorce certificate as well. There are special requirements for children under 14, see the State Department passport website for details.

Many post offices, court offices, public libraries and other government offices will accept passport applications. The Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page will help you find the nearest location to apply in person for your passport. You can search by zipcode, city/state and also look for locations with onsite photo capabilities.

After submitting the forms with proof of identity, you should receive your passport in about six weeks. If you are traveling within two weeks, and can provide proof of departure date, you can request expedited service.

Got comments about the passport process? Post them below...

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Most recent comments on "Passports Online"

Posted by:

04 May 2006

Your readers should be aware that obtaining a passport for a minor under age 14 is much more difficult than obtaining one for an adult. Not only do you have to prove the identity of the child, you need to provide documentation of the child's relationship to both parents. Application must be done in person, and both parents need to be present (unless one signs a notarized letter). Check out Bob's link to the Passport Service for more information.

Posted by:

04 May 2006

Ok - give me a break - with all the press about international travel, passports in general, security concerns,etc. - and you miss the fact you need to get a passport!?! OK - so you're lazy and look for the least required to travel and expect the least to be forever viable? - Ta-Da, you're about a year behind the curve.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ahh, but there's the rub... you DO NOT need a passport to travel to Jamaica. You CAN go there with a certified birth certificate. Mine wasn't certified (at least by the required gov't authority) and that was the problem.

Posted by:

04 May 2006

Oh and by the way, something I found out the hard way: the name on your passport has to match the name on the credit card that purchased the ticket. I had to go through a court name change in order to fly out on a ticket I'd already purchased!! It sure would be nice to find out that I'm also a year out of date and they've changed that....

Posted by:

04 May 2006

Travel Agents are priceless; i.e., We went on a Disney cruise in February, and our agent emphasized that we needed a CERTIFIED copy of our birth certificates or they wouldn't let us board. And we were also told that as of Dec31,2006, we would have to have a passport to travel anywhere outside the United States -- no exceptions. So we're all in the process of obtaining passports now! MaryJane

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, unfortunately even for travel to Canada. Sadly, this will result in many families choosing NOT to travel to Canada due to the hassle (paperwork, photos, personally appearing to submit the forms) and expense ($97 per person for a passport).

I think this is still in the public comment stage, so if you speak out now, there's a chance it might not happen.

Posted by:

04 May 2006

What if you had a passport is expired but was issued less than 15 years ago? There is a link to the renewal form at the bottom of US State Department website referenced in Bob's article. Skip, c'mon, give US a break! That was unnecessarily harsh....

Posted by:

Bunnie Watson
04 May 2006

A warning to women who gave up their birth surname when they married: the process Bob describes won't work for you, since your current ID will have a different name than your birth certificate. You'll be asked to provide a marriage license or divorce decree in addition to the documents men need to bring along. Of course, nowhere on the State Department web site do they tell you that. Be prepared.

Posted by:

06 May 2006

We were headed off to Europe with our son when we realized, two days before the flight, that his passport had expired. (Adult passports expire in 10 years and children's passports expire in 5 years from date of issue.) We found out that he could go to the regional government passport center and get the new passport the same day (at extra cost). We made the 5 hour drive to the regional passport center and it worked.

Posted by:

07 May 2006

I had to rush to get a passport even though it wasn't expiring for over a month. Even the United Exec Premier desk told me that as long as my passport was not expiring before the end of my trip I could use it: WRONG - at least going to Africa your passport needs to be valid for a month AFTER the date you return to the US. I was told by a United agent that if I showed up at the airport with the current passport I would not be let on the plane. So check it out before you go even if your passport is current.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2007

Can anyone give me any info on getting a passport using these online passport .coms that say they can get your passport in a short amount of time. Can any of them be trusted? Do they really get them to you in a few days like they say?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I would be very leary. It's doubtful they can do any better than the expedited service offered by the gov't agency that issues passports itself.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2009

Thank you for posting this site, it helped me out a great deal. All of you links were accurate I filled out my application online and my certified birth certificate is on the way to my home address, very helpful


Posted by:

07 Dec 2009

It would be nice if you were to provide the same information for Canadians wishing to apply on line for a passport if the service is available, of course.

Posted by:

08 Apr 2011

Starting this month the State Dept. will not accept my STATE CERTIFIED OFFICIAL birth certificate because it does not have my parents' names on it. I drove to the state capitol and got a new one. Now they just cancelled my appointment for tomorrow IN CASE the government shuts down. Two years ago my wife got a passport for $67 + $30 postal fee with no problem. Now it is $110 + $25 postal fee. 4/8/11

Posted by:

Gaye Tannenbaum
20 Jun 2014

Since 9/11 you need a certified birth certificate that was filed within one year of the date of birth. All well and good unless you were adopted. Typically, the adoption finalizes several months after the petition is filed so nearly all US adoptees have this problem. Their amended birth certificates are filed more than one year after the date of birth. The original is sealed under state law. I know one woman who was stuck in Mexico for two months because of this. She had moved down there prior to the WHTI and she could only return to US if she had a passport which they refused to give her because of the date on her amended birth certificate. Another woman I know had to get her US Congressman involved - and even then, it took a full year for her to get a passport.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

what will I need to get my passport an how can I get it in maybe two or three days at a low cost

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