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11 Things You Need to Know Before Getting Your Kid’s First Passport

There’s nothing quite as decadent or exotic as an international vacation, even if you’re traveling with your children. In order to get them safely out of and back into the United States, however, you’ll need to make sure that everything is in order in relation to their passports. Just as you need a valid and up-to-date passport in order to travel around the world, so do your little darlings. Before you tangle with the bureaucratic red tape that is securing a passport for minors, these are ten of the things you’d do well to keep in mind.

  1. Do You Actually Need a Passport? – It’s a good idea to have a passport on hand so that it’s one less thing to worry about in the future, but many parents don’t bother with securing one for their children unless they’re actively planning an international jaunt. If you fall into the latter camp, it’s wise to double-check that your visit will even require a passport; destinations as far-flung as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands do not require one. Other countries will accept passport cards or even an Enhanced Drivers License, which are typically a bit easier to obtain. Check to be sure that your child will even need a passport, because you can save quite a bit of valuable trip planning time if you skip the red tape for journeys that don’t require one.
  2. It Will Take Longer Than You Expect – Expedited and rush services may promise your child’s passport sooner than normal, but that doesn’t always mean that you’ll get one overnight. Make sure that you start the process well in advance of your actual travel date so that you don’t find yourself stuck in the States when you’re supposed to be traveling to more exciting climes.
  3. You Can Complete Some Forms Online – You can print a blank DS-11 form from the U.S. Department of State website, or even fill the entire six-page document out online to speed the process along. The first four pages outline in detail what you’ll need to obtain the minor’s passport, but it’s important that you remember not to sign that application you’ve filled out until directed to do so at the form submission site.
  4. Get the Proper Photos – Each child will need two identical copies of a color photograph measuring two-by-two inches at the time of form submissions. A white or off-white background and normal street clothing are required for the photo to be deemed acceptable. Some drug stores will offer passport photograph services, and you’ll need to bring them along with you if the site you’ve chosen for form submission doesn’t provide those services.
  5. Both Parents Should Be Present for Submission – To apply for a passport for a child under the age of sixteen, both parents or legal guardians will need to be present. There are special circumstances in which one parent can be present, but it will require at least one of the legal guardians or parents and a notarized and signed copy of the DS-11 form for the other. Parents with sole custody must also provide proof of said custodial arrangement in order to obtain a passport for their minor child.
  6. You’ll Need Plenty of Identification – You’ll need to have a copy of each child’s birth certificate or certificate of citizenship, along with their social security numbers. Each parent or guardian will also need to have photo identification on their person at the time of application.
  7. Be Ready to Prove Your Relationship – A copy of each child’s birth certificate will generally list the names of both parents, and you’ll need that proof of relationship in order to apply for your minor child’s passport. An adoption decree with the names of adopting parents or a court order that establishes guardianship or sole custody is also sufficient in terms of proving your relationship to the minor child.
  8. Know Where to Submit the Forms – Local passport agencies, acceptance facilities and even the local branch of your post office are accepted locations for the completion of a passport agency. Be sure before showing up, however, that you have all of the necessary documentation.
  9. How to Follow Up on a Passport Application – You can follow up with the status of your kids’ passport applications on the U.S. Department of State travel website, but you should still be prepared to wait anywhere from six to eight weeks to officially receive those documents.
  10. Don’t Forget Your Checkbook – Fees for passport applications can vary wildly, depending on the type of passports you’re securing and whether or not you’ll be opting for expedited services. You will need a check or money order to complete the purchase, though. It’s best to make sure that your checkbook is on your person before you make the trek to the application and submission site.
  11. The Post Office May Be Your Best Bet – While certainly not all Post Office branches offer passport services, there will probably be one near to you that does. Rather than hassling with the process of securing acceptable photos and scrambling from one site to another, check to see if your local branch is one that does. Most branches that accept passport applications will also take the photographs on site, so you won’t have to worry about cropping or size requirements. You’ll be able to knock most of your passport tasks out in one trip, which can be a valuable time-saver when you’re down to the wire.
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