Planning your study abroad? You’ll read lots of guides to help you figure out what to bring (like this study abroad checklist); but before you even start on your packing list, there’s one huge item to check off. Hint: it’s crucial to the abroad part of studying abroad. You need to get your passport.

travel-passport-germany

If you have a passport from back in the day (but issued after your 16th birthday) pull it out, dust it off, and skip down to the Renewing Your Passport section of this post – if applicable.

If it’s your first time applying for the little book, or your old passport was from when you were younger than 16, follow these steps to make sure you have the legal documentation to make the potential best experience of your life happen.

Applying for Your U.S. Passport

If you prefer to watch this video instead of read, here’s an information video from Chelsea Wilson about applying for a new U.S. Passport. Check out her blog for more travel tips!

1. Apply for your passport at least four to six weeks before you leave.

Processing and mailing takes a while. If it’s too late, and you’re within two weeks of traveling, you must apply in person at a Department of State Passport Agency. Here’s the list of DSPA locations by state. You’ll have to pay the expedited service fee of $60 to do this. But you need your passport to travel overseas, so you gotta do what you gotta do.

2. Know which passport type you need and have $135 saved up.

Passport Book:

Most travelers will need a passport book, which is the traditional, stamp-able book most people have and is required for overseas travel. This costs $135 in total ($110 application fee and $25 execution fee for first-timers) for travelers 16 and older, and $105 ($80 application and $25 execution) for travelers under 16.

Passport Card:

Passport cards are only acceptable for border crossings between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean by land or sea (i.e. a cruise), and not by air. The cost is $55 ($30 application fee and $25 execution fee) for travelers 16 and older, and $40 ($15 application and $25 execution) for travelers under 16.

If you have the funds, however, we recommend you get the passport book (or both) because your study abroad experience is likely to inject you with the travel bug and you’ll eventually want to take flight overseas.

3. Gather the necessary documents.

You’ll need to submit the following with your application.

  • Proof of U.S citizenship: You’ll need to submit your original U.S. birth certificate, plus a black and white 8.5”x11” photocopy of the certificate. (Don’t worry, you’ll get it back.)

If you don’t have it or it was filed more than a year after birth, the Department of State will accept:

  • A hospital birth record;
  • An early baptismal or circumcision certificate;
  • Early census, school, medical, or family Bible records;
  • Insurance files or published birth announcements (such as a newspaper article); and
  • Notarized affidavits (or DS-10, Birth Affidavit) of older blood relatives having knowledge of your birth may be submitted in addition to some of the records listed above.

If you were not born in the U.S., Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship, Consular Report of Birth Abroad.

  • Proof of identity: Submit a black and white photograph of the front and back of your driver’s license.No license? They’ll accept another government-certified form of ID that contains your photo and signature, including: Certificate of Naturalization; Certificate of Citizenship; military identification; or federal, state, or municipal government employee identification card.
  • Recent color photograph: You are responsible for supplying your passport photograph, and it must meet passport requirements. Read more below.

4. Get your photo taken.

The Department of State has about a trillion rules for how your photograph is composed. If you don’t meet them, processing will be delayed until you can provide a proper photo.  The best way to ensure you meet all of their requirements is to get your photo taken at a passport photo center. Conduct a quick online search of centers near you that will take and print your photo (for a fee), which include:

  • Post offices (not every post office has this service, so call or visit their website first to verify)
  • Pharmacies and retail stores (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco)
  • Professional photography studios
  • U.S. Passport Offices

If you’re hitting crunch time and don’t have time for a trip to CVS, carefully follow these steps to take and print your own passport photo.

Note: Some colleges and universities offer a Passport Photo Day or have facilities on campus to get your photo taken. Check with your school’s study abroad office to see if this is something on your campus!

5. Fill out a DS-11 form.

With your photo, proof of identity and proof of citizenship in hand, you’re now ready to apply. You can fill out an electronic version of the DS-11 form or print the PDF on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

The form provides additional information on the required documents if you need clarity on any of the information above. Fill it out, print it, and combine it with your passport photo and document photocopies.

6. Submit your full application packet in person at a designated acceptance facility.

These facilities include:

  • A county office
  • An authorized post office
  • A passport agency (by appointment only)

To find the facility closest to you, visit the Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page on the Department of State’s website.

7. Wait patiently.

If all of your documents check out, your passport will be mailed to you in a few weeks. Your proof of citizenship document will be mailed back to you separately. Keep an eye out for official government mail. Once you’ve received your passport, store it in an extremely safe place, as it is now one of the most important documents in your possession.

passport-travel-stamps

Renewing Your U.S. Passport

The steps for renewing your expired or almost expired passport are relatively simple.  You can renew by mail if your most recent passport:

  • Is submitted with your application
  • Is undamaged (other than normal “wear and tear”)
  • Was issued when you were age 16 or older
  • Was issued within the last 15 years
  • Was issued in your current name (or you can provide legal documentation of your name change)

Otherwise, follow the steps above to apply for your passport.

1. Find and submit your expired passport. 

Make sure it meets the above criteria.

2. Get a new photo taken.

The best way to ensure you meet all of the Department of State’s photo requirements is to get your photo taken at a passport photo center. Conduct a quick online search of centers near you that will take and print your photo (for a fee), which include:

  • Post offices (not every post office has this service, so call or visit their website first to verify)
  • Pharmacies and retail stores (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco)
  • Professional photography studios
  • S. Passport Offices

If you’re hitting crunch time and don’t have time for a trip to CVS, carefully follow these steps to take and print your own passport photo.

3. Fill out a DS-82 form. 

You can fill out an electronic version of the DS-82 form or print the PDF on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

4. Gather your application fee.

You will owe the same fee as first-time applicants, with the exception of the execution costs. The Department of State accepts personal checks or money orders made out to, you guessed it, “U.S. Department of State.” Cash is not accepted.

  • $110 – Passport Book
  • $30 – Passport Card
  • $140 – Passport Card and Book

5. Mail your application, photo and old passport in a large envelope to the National Passport Processing Center.

The Department of State recommends you use a trackable delivery method to ensure your documents are delivered. Mail to:

National Passport Processing Center

Post Office Box 90155

Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

If you need expedited service, include the additional $60 fee with your application fee and mail to:

National Passport Processing Center

Post Office Box 90955

Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

6. Wait patiently.

If all of your documents check out, your passport will be mailed to you in a few weeks – or faster with expedited service. Then, you’ll be one step closer to having everything you need for your adventure abroad.

What are you waiting for? Achieve peace of mind by getting your passport ASAP.  For more information, visit https://travel.state.gov/

Once you have your passport all set, you’re ready to explore the world! Check out StudentUniverse for cheap flights and hotels along your journey.


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