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What is a Passport?

A passport is a document issued by the United States government that shows your identity and citizenship. It is an internationally recognized travel document that attests to your identity and nationality. A passport holder is typically entitled to enter the country that issued the passport although some people who have passports may not be full citizens. You need a passport to exit or enter the United States unless there are exceptions or special circumstances.

What are the Features of a Passport?

A passport is a small booklet that is 3 ½ inches by 5 inches and applicants can either choose between a standard passport with 28 pages or the non-standard version with 52 pages. At the front of the passport there are official identification pages which contain your name and your officially affixed photo. You are required to supply a 2 inch by 2 inch photo when you apply.

This section also contains your birth date information as well as information on where you were born, when and where the document was issued, when it expires as well as your passport number. There are also empty pages that follow and these pages are to be used for exit and entry stamps. Visas will also be stamped on these empty pages if they are required. When you receive your passport, you must sign it in order for it to be valid. Passports are valid for ten years for adults and for children 15 years of age or younger, they are valid for five years.

When you are leaving the country, your passport and visas will be checked for validity by the airline that you are traveling with. When you are entering a new country, the Immigration Officer will check your documents and they may stamp it with the date of your entry. This stamp marks the start of your visit and in most countries, you are allowed to visit for a limited amount of time such as thirty days without officially applying for an extended visit. The Immigration Officer will check that date at your departure and stamp you out.

How to Apply for a Passport?

The Secretary of State issues passports. In order to get a passport, you will have to:

  • Fill out the relevant forms;
  • Collect your supporting documents;
  • Get your photo; and
  • Pay a passport fee.

Filling Out the Relevant Forms

You will have to fill out Form DS-11 if you are applying for the first time. This form is also required for children who are applying or renewing as well as anyone who is not eligible for form DS-82. Form DS-82 is required for renewing an adult’s passport. You will have to fill out Form DS-5504 if you are changing a name within a year, correcting a passport error or replacing a limited validity passport within one or two years.

Collecting Your Supporting Documents

You will need to bring certain supporting documents such as citizenship evidence, identification as well as proof of relationship if you are a child. The specific documents that you need also depend on what form you are using.

Getting Your Photo

You need one 2” by 2” color passport photo. These are among the major requirements that your photo has to meet.

  • Your head must face the camera directly with full face in view.
  • You must either have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
  • It must be taken in clothing which is normally worn on a daily basis
  • It must be taken in the last six months.
  • You must use a plain white or off-white background.
  • You cannot wear glasses unless you have a signed note from your doctor which shows that you need your glasses for medical reasons.
  • You cannot wear either headphones or wireless hands-free devices.

Paying a Passport Fee

You will also have to pay a passport fee. Your fee can depend on different factors such as if you are an adult or a child, if you are a first-time applicant or a renewal applicant, if you are changing or correcting a passport or requesting additional services.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have more specific questions about how to apply for a passport or renew one based on your particular situation, it may be useful to consult an experienced immigration attorney.

Photo of page author Arvind Ravikumar

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-10-2018 10:20 AM PST

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