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  • Lauren Wood

How to Apply for a Passport for a Baby

A step-by-step guide to applying for a passport for your newborn baby. Follow these instructions to get it as quickly as possible!

So you’ve popped out a kid and you need to get permission from the U.S. Government (ugh) to let him or her travel abroad. Seems like a daunting process, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Do these things and you’ll have your baby’s passport in no time.

1. Give Birth

Okay, so I know this might sound silly, but it’s an important factor if you’re thinking about how you’re going to get a passport for your baby before he or she arrives. How quickly you can get your baby’s passport is determined by when they are born (that starts the clock), and how quickly you can get official documents after that happens. So don’t even think about scheduling a passport appointment for a couple weeks after your anticipated delivery, because you don’t know if you’ll deliver early—or late—or if some sort of complications arise that means you or your baby will have to stay in the hospital.

So wait until you give birth—and get the birth information from the hospital—before making a passport appointment. You will most likely need an official birth certificate for your passport appointment, as it’s one of the documents that’s required to prove citizenship (there are other options, but this is the most common). The day you give birth starts the clock on how quickly you can get your baby’s passport in your hot little hands.

I suppose if you have set-in-stone travel plans that are planned to happen soon after your due date, I would suggest doing the following: (1) book an appointment at your county's Vital Records office 2-3 weeks after your due date and (2) book a passport appointment as soon after that date as possible, then cancel or reschedule if you need to. There are a lot of variables that go into having a baby, but if you deliver "on time" and everything goes according to plan, you could conceivably get a passport pretty quickly. BUT... there's a caveat to that: you still need a social security number, and sometimes that doesn't happen as quickly as you might like (more on that below).

2. Gather Official Documents

In order to apply for a passport, you’ll need official documentation proving your child's birth. The first thing you’ll need is your child’s social security number. While you won’t need a copy of the actual card to give the passport office, you will need the number. There are exceptions for children without social security numbers, but it’s a much more arduous process.

If you deliver in a hospital, the hospital should give you a packet of documents containing several forms and information sheets about getting a birth certificate and social security number. We delivered in the hospital and in our packet was a piece of paper titled “Information About When You Will Receive Your Baby’s Social Security Card”.

First of all, it says that if you haven’t named your baby, you can’t get a social issued. Assuming you’ve picked a name, it says that you should receive your baby’s social security card in about 8 weeks. The paper says it takes the State about 7 weeks to notify the SSA about a baby’s birth. Once the birth is registered, they will issue a card and will mail it to you about a week later.

I don’t recall exactly how long it took to get Tristan’s social security card, but I know it didn’t take 8 weeks. The postage date on our SSA card envelope is May 29th—just 15 days after his birth, so I am guessing we got it in under three weeks. But do note that apparently it can take as long as 8 weeks. That is one thing you need to take into consideration when booking a passport appointment.

We were also given a “Verification Letter” from our hospital, which indicates the hospital’s name, your child’s name, the parent(s) names and place(s) of birth, your doctor’s name, your child’s sex and the date and time he or she was born.

In addition to having a social security number, you’ll also need to submit ONE of the following documents to obtain your child's passport: (1) an official birth certificate, (2) a consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth, or (3) a certificate of citizenship.

We provided Tristan’s birth certificate as the official document proving his identity. For a birth certificate to be valid, it must: (a) be issued by the city, county or state of birth; (2) list the applicant’s full name, date of birth, and place of birth; (3) the parent(s)' full names; (4) have the date filed with registrar's office (must be within one year of birth); (5) have the registrar's signature; and (6) have the seal of the issuing authority. Any official birth certificate should have these items.

You have a couple options to get a birth certificate: you can get an appointment and apply in person or fill out a form and mail it to them (then they mail it back). If you deliver at a hospital, they should give you the form as you are “checking out” (this is one of the other forms we received in our packet from the hospital).

If you delivered at home or someplace other than a hospital, the process is a bit more difficult. You’ll need to check with your county what the requirements are, but most of the time, you will need to register your child with the Vital Records Office, which is often done by in-person appointment. Once your child is registered, you can apply for a birth certificate.

You have to wait two weeks before your birth certificate is ready (again, according to the packet of information we were given upon discharge from the hospital), so if you make an appointment, it will need to be at least two weeks out from your child’s birth. I ended up calling the records office about a week after Tristan was born and the soonest appointment they had available was June 17th—about a month after he was born. I took it. I suppose mailing the forms could have actually been faster, now that I think of it. So I will say this: if you can get an in-person appointment quickly, do that. They issue you an official birth certificate right there when you have the appointment. If they are booked up, you may want to consider mailing your application instead.

I opted to get two official copies of his birth certificate, so I would have an extra (they are $25 per copy). When you send your passport application in, they take your official document and then mail it back later, so if you want to have one on hand at all times, you should order two official birth certificates.

Your document must list the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of the person or people applying for a passport. The above-noted documents will apply, and in some cases yo will need an adoption decree or divorce/custody decree.

Finally, you’ll need to bring a COPY of the document you chose to act as your U.S. citizenship evidence. So, if you are using your birth certificate as the citizenship evidence, you will need to bring the actual original birth certificate, along with a photocopy.

3. Take a Photo

Since babies have unpredictable schedules when they’re young and probably won’t be cooperative enough to have a traditional photo taken at a passport office or photo studio, your best option is to take the photo yourself, at home. With babies, the passport authority allows them to be seated in a car seat or on their back with a white sheet underneath them so the background is white. Or you can take the photo any way that is most convenient for you, as long as it’s on a white background.

I created a white background on the floor with some cushioning underneath it (for comfort only) and then stood over Tristan as I took his photos. There’s a really great app called Passport Photo - ID Photo App where you can upload your photo and it will automatically remove the background for you and tell you if it will “pass” with the passport agency. I think it costs about $7 or so, but the process is super easy and they will “guarantee” that your photo will pass or they will help you correct it and will give you your money back.

If you want to save $7, you can just edit the background out in Lightroom or Photoshop, though please be aware that the passport agency specifically says you are not supposed to edit or alter photos. So if you do this, just be sure to make it NOT look edited, or your photo may get rejected. This is the main reason why I just paid the seven bucks to have the app do it for me, and then have it reviewed to confirm that it should pass.

The video below has some behind-the-scenes footage of our newborn passport photo shoot:

4. Fill Out the Forms Online

This is the easiest part of the process, really. You create an account on Travel.State.Gov and use their form filler to fill out an application. You can also print a PDF and fill it out by hand. Fill them out completely and then print them for your passport appointment.

5. Pay the Fees

The fees will vary depending on what you want. A passport book is $80 and a passport card is $15. You do not save any money by getting both (together they will still cost $95). They each require an additional $35 “Execution (Acceptance) Fee”. Finally, it will cost an additional $60 to expedite the application.

While we’re on the topic of expedited applications, I would highly recommend expediting your application if you think you might want to travel soon after the baby comes. As I mentioned above, the non-expedited estimate is 18 weeks (4.5 months!). Even though they can still technically take 12 weeks with an expedited passport, they generally do prioritize these and in most cases will get it back to you sooner than 12 weeks (more on the timeline below).

And this is purely anecdotal, but I’ve been told that if you say you have a trip in the future, it may get you your passport quicker. Again, they apparently do try to get them back to people on time if they need it by a certain time (no guarantees though obviously). On the application, it asks if you have any trips planned, which countries you are planning to go to, and the dates you plan to travel. We put on the application that we were planning to go to Mexico in September (4 months after Tristan was born), even though we didn’t have set travel plans. I mean, we might go… ;-)

You obviously cannot lie on a passport application, but if you are hoping to travel somewhere, put it on there so they will hopefully process your application faster.

6. Apply in person

Unfortunately, applications for a child MUST be submitted in person, and the easiest way to do this is with both parents present at the time of the application appointment. Both parents will be required to show identification (such as a driver’s license, passport, green card or military ID) and will need to bring a photocopy of the front and the back of the ID to the appointment. For out-of-state IDs, you will need to bring a second form of identification.

If for some reason both parents are unable to attend (such as in scenarios where you are the sole legal authority, the other parent cannot be located or one parent is unable to appear), you will need to follow the instructions for each separate situation on the Travel.State.Gov website. Different scenarios require different forms. As I said, if both parents can attend the appointment, that is the easiest.

Use this website to find the nearest Passport Acceptance Facility. If you need a photo taken, be sure to check “photo on-site” when you search.

How cute is Tristan's passport!?

7. So how long will it take?

The number one question I get when people find out I got Tristan a passport was how long it took. And I know a lot of parents who are trying to plan trips before their babe is born and want to know how quickly they can travel afterwards (though, frankly, I wouldn’t recommend long-haul travel much sooner than the average time it takes to get a passport… but that’s just my humble opinion).

It took us four weeks from the date of our passport appointment until we received Tristan’s passport in the mail, and just shy of three months total from Tristan’s birth. Here’s how it went down:

Tristan was born on May 14th, a Friday. On the day we were released from the hospital (a Monday—three days after Tristan was born), the hospital staff gave us an envelope with all of Tristan’s information, including a form to apply for a birth certificate (which is what I mentioned above). Again, they did not give us a birth certificate from the hospital; only a document proving his birth (which is not the same thing as a birth certificate).

About a week later, I called the Office of Official Records here in Ventura County and made an appointment. The soonest available appointment was June 17th, almost a month later. I obviously took it.

At the same time, I went online to Travel.State.Gov and booked the soonest available in-person passport appointment, which was July 8th.

The estimate we were given at the time was 18 months for a regular application and 12 weeks for an expedited one. Not knowing when we would want to travel but wanting the flexibility to be able to travel as soon as we wanted, we opted for the expedited passport, and expected it to arrive in approximately October. Much to my surprise, we received Tristan’s passport in the mail on August 7th—exactly four weeks from when we applied.

With that said, there ARE situations where you can get your child a passport quicker if you need it. They are rare though, and only are offered for “Urgent Travel” or “Life-or-Death Emergency” appointments.

If you have a life-or-death emergency, you can get a passport within 72 hours (3 business days). The Travel.State.Gov website says that you may (note the emphasis on “may”) qualify for a life-or-death emergency service if your immediate family member is outside of the U.S. and he or she has died, is dying (in hospice care), or has a life-threatening illness or injury and you need to travel to a foreign country within 72 hours.

The passport office also has an extremely limited number of appointments available for customers who are traveling internationally in the next 72 hours. There are no guarantees that you can make an appointment for these though. In this scenario, you must provide proof of travel and will have to call the passport office to see if they can get you an appointment.

So the moral of the story? Don’t wait for the above-noted situations to happen and just apply as soon as possible.

Good luck!

A step by step guide explaining how to apply for a passport for your baby.
How to Apply for a Passport for a Baby

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