It’s finally here!!! I have a passport!!! I can go anywhere I want!!!
Well, you know. As soon as I get the money to do so. Details. Whatever.
I know it’s been awhile since my last update about planning to travel abroad, but that hasn’t been for a lack of progress; some steps along the way have taken awhile, so there hasn’t been much to report. I got my new Wisconsin state driver’s license back in December, and then a few weeks ago went in to apply for my passport. I wanted to wait until the end of the passport process so that I could document the entire thing for you, start to finish. So I’m excited to finally be able to write this post!
All of this details and outlines my experiences in the United States, so if you are looking to get a passport from another country this may or may not be useful for you. I also applied only for the passport book not for the card, so if there were additional steps required for the card they are not covered here.
Before the Application Process Begins
You need a lot of stuff to get your passport. All of this is outlined on the Department of State Website, and it’s pretty easy to follow, but it was kind of overwhelming for me at first. The big ones to remember are your birth certificate, which they will be mailing off so I took a photocopy of mine just in case it got lost in transit, your driver’s license with current address or if your license is out of state, you have to provide additional ID documents, your passport photo (more on that in a minute), and of course, the passport application. You also need to pay the fees, which we’ll get to a bit later.
You’ll also note that on the website it says you have to submit a photocopy of your driver’s license: they did this for me when I went to file my application, so I didn’t have to worry about it. They have such specific requirements for it that I didn’t bother trying to do it myself just in case I didn’t get it quite how they wanted it.
Getting my photo was a very quick and simple process; it turned out our local post office that handles passport applications takes photos there, but I instead went to Walgreens to get my photo taken. It was very easy, they pulled down a screen, took my photo (with a comically cheap-o camera), popped the SD card into their photo printing machine and in about 10 minutes I had two copies of my passport photo. Walgreens will also retake your photo for free if it turns out you can’t use it for some reason that’s their fault. It ran me about $12.95, and all in all the whole process took maybe less than 15 minutes, which included waiting for an employee to be available.
Once you have all this together, call ahead to make your appointment as soon as possible. It turned out that my local, small town post office was actually super busy with passport applications (go figure, right?) so I had to wait a full week after I was ready to go apply, and the wait is sometimes longer.
Filing the Application
First things first, if you’re like me and are really bad with birthdates or other important information: you are going to need information like your parents full names, birthdates, and even where they were born. I actually found some of this information on my birth certificate (lucky me!) but I had to confirm their birth years because I am a terrible daughter and didn’t have it memorized or written down. They also ask what city you were born in, so be prepared to pull that information off of your birth certificate too if you don’t know for some reason.
I also did not put in any exact dates for my travel and that did not seem to be a problem; I did list my intent to use my passport to go to Romania, but that was all. If you don’t know where you’re going or when you’re going or if you’re just hoping to get a passport so that you have another form of identification, you should be okay to skip that part like I did, but you can always call ahead to the post office to confirm if it’s okay.
I had no idea what to expect going in to the actual application meeting, some people described it as a sort of interview so that had me a little worried, but it turned out to be incredibly quick and painless. The woman who went over my application just checked to make sure everything was correct. She did verify that I had no specific dates of travel, checked my photo, and just made sure that everything was generally good to go. No weird questions (though she thought “Kill Devil Hills” was a creepy town name, go figure), no interrogation about why or where I would be going, or anything like that.
As far as the fees go, this list outlines how much you’ll have to pay, but what surprised me was that I was able to pay the execution fee directly to the post office, so I was able to use my debit card for the $25. The rest I wrote a check for, though I imagine if you have cash you could get a money order right at the post office.
The Longest Wait Ever (Or Not)
After you file for your passport, if you’re like me, you’re going to feel like the wait is the longest you’ve waited for anything in your life. I mean, it wasn’t like I already had a trip booked, but getting a passport is cool and means that as soon as I should have the cash, I can travel the entire world. Or, you know, just hop over to Canada. Whatever. The point is, it’s something fun to wait for and there’s always a chance there will be a complication, so it can be a little anxiety-inducing.
I was told at the post office that the current processing time was 7 weeks. That’s 1 week longer than the 4-6 week estimate they list online, so I’d like to echo every other piece of advice on the internet and suggest getting your passport way before you plan to travel. In fact, even if you don’t have any dates booked, go ahead and start working toward yours now. They’re good for ten years, so there’s no reason not to!
In all actuality, my wait was a lot shorter, and looked something like this:
- February 12, 2016 – Filed my application at the post office
- February 19, 2016 – The application fee was taken from my bank account
- February 26, 2016 – The date of issue on my passport
- March 3, 2016 – The day I received it in the mail
- March 5, 2016 – Received my returned birth certificate in a separate mailing
So, all told, I only waited a little under 3 weeks. This was a huge surprise to me, but my understanding is if you do your research, get all your information as correct as possible, and submit early, you should have as little trouble as I did when it comes to getting your passport.
I hope some of you find this helpful, I personally was very intimidated by the prospect of applying for my passport and found it to be a much easier process than I was expecting. Keep in mind, too, that even if you don’t intend to do any international travel, having a passport is a great way to present another form of identification for employers or other important government things, and this way you’re also ready to go if you should ever win an all expenses paid trip to Paris, or something.
If you have any questions about what I went through or if you have any passport application horror stories, I would love to hear them in the comments! As always, too, feel free to let me know where you would go if you had a passport, too! I’m very excited at the prospect of going to Romania, but hopefully this will help me see the rest of the world, too. (I might as well put those eight years I spent studying French to good use at some point, right?)
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more travel updates or help me reach my goal of exploring Eastern Europe, I would love if you checked out my Patreon at patreon.com/mandarific, where you can pledge as little as $1 to help with my blogging expenses. I also have a tip jar at paypal.me/mandarific if you found this post especially helpful. And of course, feel free to share this post with a friend if you think they would find it useful!
Cover photo by Manda Collis.