#FamilyTravelHacks: Tips for Parents Applying for Their Kid’s Passport

5 minutes read time
A smiling baby sits on a lap in an airplane, next to the tray table.
Airlines may require you to show proof of age when flying domestically with a child under the age of two. A U.S. passport card is a convenient wallet-sized alternative to bringing a birth certificate along.

#FamilyTravelHacks: Tips for Parents Applying for Their Kid’s Passport

After waking up multiple times each night to feed our infant daughter, my wife and I have learned a new definition of tired. In between the bleary-eyed 4 a.m. feedings and zombie walks to the nursery, we’ve been dreaming about vacation. We’re flying domestically this summer and may drive over the border into Canada, so we decided a U.S. passport card for our daughter would be the best option for us. We could easily carry it in our wallets and it costs less than a passport book. One day, when we have the time, energy and money again, we’ll apply for her passport book and fly overseas. Until then, a passport card is good for trips by land or seas and as proof of age so we don’t have to carry her birth certificate around. 

Fellow parents, I’m here to reassure you it’s not as hard as it seems to apply for your child’s passport!

Step 1: Fill Out The Forms

I kicked off the process by checking out our online Form Filler tool which is sort of like a fillable PDF. I started entering my daughter’s info and quickly realized I’d need to grab her birth certificate and social security info from my desk. I chuckled when the Form Filler asked me for her “occupation” but thankfully it’s not a mandatory field. The Form Filler tool then generated a passport application (Form DS-11) for me to print. The entire process took 5 minutes. But wait, don’t sign the form yet! You’ll need to sign it in person when you submit it at a passport acceptance facility.

Step 2: Gather Citizenship Evidence and Photo Identification

Finding the birth certificate (her citizenship evidence) was easy since we’ve been guarding it like the gold at Fort Knox. The document doubled as proof our daughter was ours. We had no issues finding our photo IDs (our driver’s licenses) which were stashed in our wallets.

Step 3: Make Two-Sided Photocopies of Documents

Photocopies? Really? The passport process is still largely paper-based so I grumbled a little and found a copier at a local store and made two-sided copies of my daughter’s birth certificate and our driver’s licenses. You’ll need to bring both the original documents and photocopies when you apply. This step took 10 minutes for me including the walk to the store.  

Step 4: Determine Where to Apply

We wanted to stay within a 15-minute drive of our home to ensure our daughter didn’t get fussy during the car ride. Luckily, I found several facilities that met our needs on iafdb.travel.state.gov including one post office that had Saturday hours and took photos. After a phone call to the facility to confirm some info, I learned they had a special passport fair on a Saturday and we didn’t need an appointment. This gave us more flexibility just in case we ran into trouble getting out of the door on time with our young daughter.

Eyes open or closed, both are acceptable for infant passport photos.

Step 5: Take a Photo (or Enlist the Help of a Professional)

We could have DIY’ed the photo since I know the requirements, but we opted for simplicity. Instead of purchasing our own glossy or matte paper, we let the friendly and knowledgeable postal employee take our daughter’s photo. I held my daughter like Rafiki held up Simba in the Lion King to ensure her head was centered on the white backdrop and my head wasn’t in the picture. And voila! Out came a pretty cute photo that was also acceptable for passport purposes. My daughter kept her eyes open but if they were closed the photo still would have been accepted. 

Step 6: Have Your Form of Payment Ready

The post office accepted checks and we brought two – one for an “execution fee” to the facility and one for an “application fee” to the U.S. Department of State. If you’re unsure of any of the details, you can fill them out at the acceptance facility. Just be sure to bring two checks since you need to submit one payment to the acceptance facility and one payment to the U.S. Department of State. Some facilities also take debit and credit cards, and even money orders.

Both parents or legal guardians must appear in-person when applying for their child’s passport. If one or both parents or legal guardians are unavailable, you may need to submit additional documentation. See travel.state.gov/passport for more information.

Step 7: Submit the Application

Passport applications for children must be signed and submitted in person. The postal employee verified our documents, made a few notations on the DS-11 application form, had us swear an oath, and then we signed the form. Because we selected routine service, we should receive my daughter’s passport card in 4-6 weeks via First Class Mail. We were advised that her original birth certificate will arrive separately and not to worry if it arrives up to 10 days after her passport card. I signed up for automatic email alerts on my daughter’s application status.

We lucked out by timing the trip to the post office between my daughter’s morning bottle and nap. There was no crying – even from me and my wife. The process was straightforward and the total time investment for the process - including filling out the form and photocopying documents – was just 1 hour.

You can learn more about how to apply for your child’s passport on travel.state.gov/passports/children.

Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.