Passports: Tips for Your First Application

I recently took a trip to my local USPS to get my first passport, yay! The night before, I was up all night looking for tips and tricks to help prepare myself and also how to take the best passport photo. These tips were pretty generic, and it seemed that no matter what page I looked on, all the advice was exactly the same. That being said, going with those tips didn’t actually work to my advantage, so I’m here to give everyone a completely realistic list to help you have the absolute best, first-time passport application appointment possible!


I talked to a few people before, and it seemed that the consensus for the only place to go get your passport was the city/county building downtown. This killed my vibe, because who wants to travel and pay for parking and make an appointment at the same time someone is probably on trial in the next room. After I spoke to someone who has traveled extensively, I was told I could simply go to the local United States Post Office. This news thrilled me since I have several USPS stores down the street from my home.

When I made a passport appointment with my local USPS branch–online, I might add–I was prompted to also fill out the application ONLINE. That’s right, take your time and fill it out, and then the appointment takes care of the photo and sending the documents in.


Passport Photo?

After you fill out your application online–the DS-11 for first-timers–you’ll need to print it out and then head to the place where you want to get your photo taken. Here is a small list of places that do passport photos for a small fee (varying depending where you go):

  • USPS
  • FedEx
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Walmart
  • UPS
  • AAA (not available at all locations; make sure to check with your local branch first)

You can also take your own passport photo at home with a hi-res camera and a fully functional photo printer. Here’s a good resource for instruction on taking your own.

The night before, there’s really not much to do to prepare for the photo other than prepping your skin if you have a routine and making sure your hair is washed and clean. I read on countless tipsheets that it’s best to leave your hair down because it frames your face. I left my hair down and my photo-readiness backfired. Be sure to pin your hair back so your face is fully visible, but if you believe you will look your best with your hair tied back or even half-up, do it.

The best advice I found for makeup is to make it natural looking. I wore my makeup naturally, and it also backfired by making my green eyes look brown (a detail you must put on your application is your eye color) so try a shadow color that will enhance the color of your eyes so they appear brighter in the actual passport instead of darker than they naturally are.

Finally, I read that you should wear something professional and that a collared shirt would look best. My advice: wear whatever type of top you like as long as the cut of the top is flattering. A collared shirt worked well for me, but be sure to wear a color lighter than your hair color. If you have dark hair and wear a dark shirt, you won’t be able to tell where your hair ends and your shirt begins. I have dark red hair, so I opted for a light colored chambray shirt, the only thing that worked out for me out of all the tips I read!

Final tip: no hats and no glasses. I wear glasses, so that day I opted for my contacts so my face was easily visible as identification should be.


Additional documentation?

The online application is the easy part. But for an application of this caliber, you’ll also need some supporting documents that you may have to do some digging to uncover!

  • You’ll need a form of photo ID, such as your State ID or driver’s license.
    • You’ll also need a color photocopy of this document.
    • DISCLAIMER! Be sure the address on your driver’s license or ID matches your current address and the address that is on your passport application. If it doesn’t match, you’ll need to visit your local DMV website and update the address online. You’ll receive an updated ID card to carry with you until it’s time for your ID to get renewed!
  • You’ll need proof of birth, so your birth certificate or any citizenship evidence.
    • You’ll also need a photocopy of this as well.
    • DISCLAIMER! When you send in your passport application, your birth certificate will be sent in with it and returned to you when you receive your passport book in the mail!
  • A blank check. You’ll need to pay the application fee using either a check or money order–they won’t take a credit or debit card for this fee.


How much?

There was a total of three different fees I had to pay: the execution fee, taking my photo, and the actual passport book application fee.

  • Passport book application fee – $110
  • Passport execution fee – $25
  • Photo fee – $15 (I was able to pay for this with my debit card, as the USPS employee took the photo in their office)
    • My grand total was $150



So, you should definitely apply for a passport as soon as possible. As soon as you decide that you want to travel, you’ll want to play it safe and get your application sent in 6 months before you’re planning to travel. If you want to vacation in the summer, try and get your passport in the beginning of the year. Be smart about it and don’t wait, the cost for expedited service is a $60 fee you can definitely avoid! Like I said, the sooner the better; it just so happened that the day of my passport appointment was the day of the government shutdown, and the postal service was unsure as to how it would affect when I would receive my passport book. You never know, so go ASAP!


Do I need one?

Even if you don’t travel regularly, it’s always good to have an extra form of identification. But since January 22, 2018, there are certain states that require an alternate form of ID if someone wants to travel by plane–meaning the state ID or driver’s license won’t work. Here is a list of those states, so make sure to check this before you book a trip if you don’t have a passport yet!


How long does it last?

A passport will be good for ten years from the date of issue, so make sure you take the best photo possible so you’re not disappointed for a decade while waiting for your renewal photo. A passport renewal costs $110.


What if I change my name?

This is 100% my situation right now. Many people don’t get their first passport until they are planning their wedding and preparing to take a honeymoon together. This is an awkward time, as your honeymoon happens after your wedding, so you’ll need to change your name (if that’s what you’re choosing to do) legally, and then update your passport in order to travel. There is a form that you are provided with (I got mine at the USPS office during my appointment) and it will be due after the wedding with your marriage license and legal name change documentation. The cost for this varies, from $0 to $165. If you change your name less than one year after your passport was issued, it will be free of charge!



You don’t need any vaccination when you are applying for your passport. But, depending on where you’d like to travel, check in with your doctor and see if you need any boosters before you go abroad! You can also check with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs for recommended vaccinations for your destination as well as other travel advice.


How long until I receive my book?

It should only take about 6-8 weeks for the passport book to arrive in your mailbox! Use that time to plan your dream trip!



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