If you plan to travel outside of the country, you’ll most likely need a current U.S. passport. Even if you don’t have any immediate plans for a vacation or business trip abroad, it’s still a good idea to have a valid passport on hand. Passport applications can take months to process, so if you have an emergency or need to make an unexpected trip out of the U.S., not having a passport already can put you in a significant bind.
But your passport is not just a license to travel — it also serves as a handy form of ID that you can use to prove your citizenship as well. However, ironically, you have to show proof of citizenship in order to apply for a passport. The simplest way to do that is with a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate.
We’ll outline the passport application process and show you how to obtain your passport using your birth certificate, so you can get this important document quickly and easily and be prepared for any planned or unexpected travel abroad.
Step 1: Make Sure You Meet the Passport Application Requirements
First, you’ll want to make sure that you qualify for a U.S. passport, since there are no refunds if your application is rejected. Any U.S. citizen or national can apply for a passport, but there are some exceptions. You may be disqualified from obtaining a passport if you:
- Have a felony conviction — especially if it is drug-related and/or you are still on parole or probation
- Owe more than $2,500 in child support
- Have outstanding federal loans
- Owe more than $50,000 in back taxes
- Are a minor and don’t have parental consent from both parents
- Have previously obtained a passport fraudulently
- Have a warrant out for your arrest or a pending arrest
- Have a court order barring you from leaving the country
In addition, the government can deny a passport to anyone they consider to be “a threat to
Step 2: Get a Certified Copy of Your Birth Certificate
If you meet the criteria to apply for a passport, the next step is getting a certified copy of your birth certificate. A birth certificate is an official document issued by the government that certifies your birth and establishes your citizenship. It includes personal information such as your full name, date of birth, place of birth, and your parents’ names.
Surprisingly, many people don’t have a copy of their birth certificate on hand. If you do have one, be sure to check and make sure that it is a certified copy, as this is the only type that is considered legally valid and able to be used for official purposes. Certified birth certificate copies are issued by the vital records office in your birth state and will have a raised or embossed seal and the state registrar’s signature.
If you don’t have certified copy, you can apply for one by mail, in person, or online through Vital Records Online. Just keep in mind that you must apply through the vital records office in your birth state. Applying online is the fastest and easiest method, since you get to skip the long lines at the vital records office. It’s also much more convenient if you no longer live in your birth state.
Step 3: Gather Any Additional Required Documents
In addition to your birth certificate, you’ll also need a valid government-issued form ID, such as a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. If you are renewing your passport, you’ll need your most recent passport as well.
If you’ve changed your name and it no longer matches the name on your ID, birth certificate, or most recent passport, you may also need to provide proof of a legal name. You can use a certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order for name change, whichever is applicable.
Minors also need proof of parental consent from both parents. At least one parent needs to be there in person when they apply, but the other parent can provide a notarized statement of consent.
And finally, you won’t need your actual Social Security card, but you will need to provide your Social Security number on your application. If you don’t have one, you can include a signed and dated statement saying, “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct: I have never been issued a Social Security number by the Social Security Administration.” However, if you do have an SSN and fail to provide it, your application will be denied and you may have to pay a $500 fine.
Step 4: Complete the Passport Application Form
Next, you’ll need to complete the correct passport application form. If you are applying for your first passport, you will need to use Form DS-11. However, you will also need to use this form if:
- You are a minor under the age of 16
- Your most recent passport was issued more than 15 years ago
- Your current passport is damaged, lost, or stolen
- Your most recent passport was issued when you were under 16
If you are renewing your passport and none of the exceptions listed above apply, then you should use Form DS-82. You can download and print both forms from the U.S. Department of State website or pick up a copy in person at a passport acceptance facility. Make sure to read the directions carefully and fill out the form completely and accurately to avoid delays and/or rejection.
Step 5: Get a Passport Photo
The next step is getting your passport photo taken. There’s no rule that says you can’t take your own photos, but there are very specific regulations that your photo must meet, so it’s much easier to have them taken professionally. Most pharmacies, copy and print stores, and mailing and shipping stores also offer passport photo services for a nominal fee.
Whichever route you decide to take, you should double-check to make sure your photo is acceptable. These are the guidelines for passport photos, according to the U.S. Department of State:
- It must be a high-resolution color photo, taken in the last 6 months.
- Use a white or off-white background without shadows, texture, or lines.
- You must be facing the camera directly, with a neutral expression, mouth closed, and both eyes open.
- The image must be clear and filters/digital alterations are not allowed.
- No selfies — the photo must be taken by someone else.
- You cannot wear headphones/earbuds, eyeglasses, a hat, or a headcovering unless medically or religiously necessary.
- The photo should be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm), and your head must be between 1 and 1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
- The photo should be printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper, with no holes, creases, or smudges.
- Wear normal, everyday clothing — no uniforms or anything that looks like a uniform, and camouflage attire is also not allowed.
- Jewelry and facial piercings are fine as long as they do not hide your face.
Step 6: Submit Your Application
Once you have completed all of these steps, it’s time to submit your application. If you are using Form DS-11, you will need to apply by mail. However, if you need to use Form DS-82, you must apply in person at a passport center or agency.
To apply by mail, simply place your completed application form, most recent passport, certified birth certificate, additional supporting documents, passport photos, and payment for the processing fees in a secure and trackable envelope and send it off. The mailing address is located on your application form, so make sure you write it down before you seal the envelope! But you can also find it on the U.S. Department of State website.
If you are applying in person, you will need to bring all of your required documents to a passport acceptance facility. Most post offices, county clerk offices, and other government offices accept passport applications, as well as many libraries. There are also dedicated passport centers and agencies, however, they typically require you to schedule an appointment. Your agent will look over your application and documents and make sure everything is in order, take your payment for the processing fees, and submit your application.
Processing times vary, depending on demand, but you can currently expect to wait 10-13 weeks to receive your new passport. You can track the status of both mailed and in-person applications on the U.S. Department of State website.
It’s a good idea to keep a current, valid passport on hand for when you need it, and a certified birth certificate copy makes it simple to apply for one. Just make sure you meet the criteria, have all of the required documents, and use the correct application form and method, and you’ll be set with your own license to travel abroad.