After years of waiting to travel again, many are looking to find their next getaway or see that distant relative in another country. But if you want to travel outside the U.S., then first things first — you need a passport.

It can be expensive and you’ll have to gather some documents, but understanding the steps and what to expect can alleviate some of that difficulty. According to U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, taking the extra time now to prepare can save time and money in the long run on that next international trip.

Here’s a breakdown of what a passport is, what you can do with it, and how to get one.

What is a passport?

A passport is a federal form of ID that proves your identity and citizenship. It’s the form of ID that supersedes all other forms of ID in the U.S. With a passport, you can use it for anything a State ID or municipal ID can do and it can prove your citizenship abroad. The only thing it can’t do is give you permission to drive — you need a driver’s license for that.

Do I need a passport?

If you want to travel internationally — yes. Otherwise, you don’t necessarily need a passport.

For instance, if you have REAL ID you don’t need a passport to travel within the U.S. or enter a federal facility. REAL ID works for that. Here’s how to get government ID, including REAL ID, in Philly.

If you’re traveling outside of the U.S. or its territories, then you need a passport. You don’t need a passport if you’re traveling within the U.S., American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Anywhere else, you need a passport.

Who is eligible for a passport?

Only U.S. citizens or non-citizen nationals — which are people born in outlying U.S. territories mentioned above or who have parents who are non-citizen nationals — are able to get a U.S. passport.

Passport offices near Philadelphia

You can apply for a passport at any Passport Acceptance Facility, which are commonly post offices and government buildings (see the list below). Many local post offices and city records offices are able to receive and process your application.

There is also a Philadelphia Passport Agency, however, you can only apply there with an appointment and if your reason for international travel is a “Life-or-Death” emergency or if you have urgent travel plans within 5 business days. If that is the case, call 877-487-2778 to make an appointment.

You can look for a Passport Acceptance Facility using the U.S. Department of States search tool.

How to get a passport

You need to apply for one. You can do this in-person or by mail. However, if it’s your first time getting a passport — you have to apply in-person.

Apply in person:

  • If you’ve never been issued a passport before

  • If you are under age 16

  • If you were under age 16 when your previous passport was issued

  • If your most recent passport was issued more than 15 years ago

  • If your passport was lost or stolen

  • If your name has changed since your previous passport was issued and you are can’t legally document your name change

Otherwise, if you’re just renewing your passport you can apply by mail.

First time application

Complete form DS-11. Download the form here or complete the form online and print it out using the U.S. Department of State’s form fill out tool. Do not sign this form until you’re at a Passport Acceptance Facility.

Bring your unsigned form to a Passport Acceptance Facility. You can find a facility near you by using the U.S. Department of State’s Passport Acceptance Facility Search Tool.

Bring the required documents with you. (See the above ‘What documents do I need to get a passport?’ section)

Bring payment for application and acceptance fees. You have to pay by check or money order. Checks and money orders should be made payable to “U.S. Department of State.”

What documents do I need to get a passport?

You need to prove your U.S. citizenship, your identity, and provide a photo of yourself. U.S. Department of State needs both the originals or certified copies of your documents, and photocopies of the front and back of each document. Photocopies have to be on 8.5″ by 11″ paper, black and white ink, and both legible and clear. The photocopies can’t be double-sided. So you’ll provide the original documents and a photocopy of each.

Proof of U.S. Citizenship (one of the following):

  • U.S. Birth Certificate

  • Previous U.S. Passport

  • Naturalization Certificate

  • Citizen Certificate

  • Certificate of a U.S. Birth Abroad

Proof of Identity (one of the following):

  • Valid PA Driver’s or Non-Driver’s License

  • Naturalization Certificate

  • Prior U.S. Passport

  • Government Employee ID

  • Official Military ID Card

Passport Photo:

  • The photo has to be in color. Black and white photos are not accepted.

  • The photo has to have been taken within the past six months.

  • The photo has to be two inches by two inches (no exceptions).

  • The photo has to be a front view of your face with a plain white or off-white background. You have to have a neutral expression — no smiles. You also can’t have face or head coverings unless for religious or medical purposes and with a signed statement.

  • The photo has to be taken by someone else. No selfies.

For your passport photo, some Passport Acceptance Facilities have on-site photo services so you can get your photo taken while applying in-person for an additional fee.

Renewing a passport

You can renew your passport by mail. You can renew your passport if your passport was issued after your 16th birthday and if it was issued within the past 15 years. You also don’t need to wait til your passport expires to renew it. If your passport was lost or stolen or if your name has changed since your last passport was issued and you don’t have a legal document (like a marriage license) to prove the legal name change, you have to reapply in-person.

  • Complete form DS-82. Download the form here or complete the form online and print it out using the U.S. Department of State’s form fill out tool.

  • Provide your most recent passport. Your passport should be undamaged besides normal wear and tear.

  • Provide an updated passport photo. Get your photo taken at a Passport Acceptance Facility or have someone take a photo for you. The photo must have been taken within the last 6 months.

  • Include your passport fees. You have to pay by check or money order. Checks and money orders should be made payable to “U.S. Department of State.”

  • If your name has changed, provide legal proof of the name change. You can submit a certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order of your name change.

  • Mail your passport package to: National Passport Processing Center, Post Office Box 90155, Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155. You have to mail your documents through the United States Postal Service (USPS). Private companies, like UPS and FedEx are not able to deliver these documents to the post office box listed.

  • If you want your new passport and application documents sent back to you ASAP, you can pay for expedited processing to the U.S. Department of State for an additional $60. To have the department send everything back to you in 1-2 days once your passport is printed, include an additional $18.32 in your payment for renewal. You can add these fees to the total amount on your check or money order for renewal. Clearly mark, “EXPEDITE” on the outside of your passport package envelope.

Once the U.S. Department of State prints your passport, they will mail everything back to you. This can take a couple of weeks and you may get your documents back in separate mail.

How to get a passport for a child

All children under 16 years old have to apply in-person with two parents or guardians. If a child’s passport expires, they can’t renew it. They have to reapply in-person. Only people who were issued a passport at age 16 years or older can renew their passport.

  • Complete form DS-11. Download the form here or complete the form online and print it out using the U.S. Department of State’s form fill out tool. Do not sign this form until you’re at a Passport Acceptance Facility.

  • Bring the required documents with you.

  • Provide proof of parental relationship. Parents of the child applying will have to show documentation that they have custody of the child. These documents can be a U.S. birth certificate, divorce or custody decree.

  • Both parents need to be there — unless one parent has sole custody or the parent who is unable to attend completes a “Statement of Consent” form DS-3053 in the presence of a notary public — and provide a copy of their ID.

  • Provide a passport photo. Get your child’s photo taken at a Passport Acceptance Facility or you can take a photo of your child. The photo has to follow U.S. Department of State guidelines.

  • Bring payment for application and acceptance fees. You have to pay by check or money order. Checks and money orders should be made payable to “U.S. Department of State.”

How long does it take to get a passport?

There are four different considerations that determine how long it will take to get your passport: Emergency, Urgent Travel, Expedited, Routine processing.

Emergency: 72 hours

  • This is only available to you if your reason for international travel is a matter of “Life-or-Death.” This means that your immediate family member is outside of the U.S., and they have died, is dying, or has a life-threatening illness or injury that requires you to travel there within 72 hours. You have to provide proof of this Life-or-Death emergency.

  • You have to call 1-877-487-2778 to make an appointment. You are not guaranteed an appointment.

Urgent Travel: Five business days

  • This is only available to you if your reason for urgent international travel is a matter other than “Life-or-Death,” and you need a passport with 5 business days. You have to provide proof of travel.

  • You have to call 1-877-487-2778 to make an appointment. You are not guaranteed an appointment.

Expedited: Five to seven weeks

  • This is available to anyone who wants to pay an extra fee to get their passport faster, but don’t need it urgently. It costs $60 for expedited processing. You can also pay an additional $18.32 for 1-2 day delivery.

Routine: Eight to 11 weeks

  • This is the standard wait time for getting a passport if you apply for one.

How long is a passport valid?

If you’re 16 years or older when you got your passport it lasts for 10 years. If you’re under 16 when you got your passport it lasts for five years.

How much does a passport cost?

There are two separate fees for getting your passport. The application fee and acceptance fee, which are paid for separately. The application fee is made payable to the “U.S. Department of State.” The acceptance fee is made payable to the Passport Acceptance Facility that you use. Check with the facility to see who you should make payment payable to for the acceptance fee.

If you’re over 16 and getting your passport for the first time:

  • Passport Book: Application fee is $130. Acceptance fee is $35.

  • Passport Card: Application fee is $30. Acceptance fee is $35.

  • Passport Book & Card: Application fee is $160. Acceptance fee is $35.

If you’re under 16 and getting your passport for the first time:

  • Passport Book: Application fee is $100. Acceptance fee is $35.

  • Passport Card: Application fee is $15. Acceptance fee is $35.

  • Passport Book & Card: Application fee is $115. Acceptance fee is $35.

If you’re renewing your passport:

  • Passport Book: Renewal fee is $130.

  • Passport Card: Renewal fee is $30.

  • Passport Book & Card: Renewal fee is $160.

How to get a passport fast

If you need an urgent passport within two weeks of travel, you have to make an appointment to apply at the Philadelphia Passport Agency. Call 877-487-2778 to make an appointment. Your reasons for needing a passport urgently has to be a matter of “Life-or-Death” or you have urgent international travel in the next 5 business days.

You can also pay an additional $60 for expedited processing to get your passport within five to seven weeks.

What happens if you lose your passport?

You have to reapply to get one. Follow the same process of getting your passport for the first time. You’ll have to go in-person to a Passport Acceptance Facility, complete form DS-11 for a passport application, and provide the necessary documents and fees.

How to change your name on your passport

You need to complete a new application, a renewal, or a name change form depending on your circumstances.

If you got your passport less than a year ago, you can complete a name change form. Fill out form DS-5504. Provide your most recent passport, your original or certified name change document (marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order), and an updated passport photo. You can mail these documents in through USPS or bring them to a Passport Acceptance Facility.

If you got your passport more than a year ago, you can renew your passport. Fill out form DS-82. Provide your most recent passport, your original or certified name change document (marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order), and an updated passport photo. You also need to bring renewal fees.

If you’re already using your changed name, but can’t get a certified name change document (marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order), you need to apply for a new passport. Follow the instructions above for getting your passport for the first time (See How to get a passport).

Where can you get passport photos?

You can get your passport photo taken or you can take the photo yourself. Often times, the easiest way to get passport photo is to apply for a passport at a Passport Acceptance Facility that offers passport photo services, like the United States Postal Service. You can also look for passport photo services at your local pharmacy, photo business, and other places that offer photo services.

You can take your own passport photo. You have to make sure that your photo adheres to U.S. Department of State guidelines:

  • The photo has to be in color. Black and white photos are not accepted.

  • The photo has to have been taken within the past six months.

  • The photo has to be two inches by two inches (no exceptions).

  • The photo has to be a front view of your face with a plain white or off-white background. You have to have a neutral expression — no smiles. You also can’t have face or head coverings unless for religious or medical purposes and with a signed statement.

  • The photo has to be taken by someone else. No selfies.

Can I get a passport if I have a criminal record?

Yes. However, according to the U.S. Department of State, federal or state law enforcement agencies can request that a passport application be denied. Those agencies can also request for a passport to be revoked.

So, yes, felons can apply and get a passport. But law enforcement agencies can deny that application.

Also worth noting: Passports do not grant access to freely leave the country or enter another country. A passport is simply an international form of ID that can be used to travel outside of the U.S. Many countries, including the U.S., do not allow people to enter the country who have been convicted of a felony or violent crime.