How do you get a passport for an infant? Since starting our parenting 101 course earlier this year, we had to get our little professor a passport for our first field trip abroad, so we recently found ourselves asking that very question. Turns out you do it the same way as you do for an adult: take a picture, fill out a form, submit it with proof that you are you. There are a couple of small differences — you have to submit it in person at an acceptance facility and either both parents must appear with the baby or one needs a notarized absence excuse (or other associated proof). Just like an adult passport, it can be expedited for a fee and turnaround times are very good on an expedited application — Baby Rey’s came in the mail on the 8th day from submitting his application.
What you need
The State Department website has a pretty easy-to-follow guide to applying for a passport for a child under 16. In a nutshell, what you’ll need to do is the following:
- Fill in form DS-11 (note that you sign this in front of the acceptance officer when submitting it, not in advance)
- Provide citizenship evidence (for a baby, this will probably be a birth certificate – you must submit an original or certified copy)
- Bring a photocopy of citizenship evidence (or a second certified copy – they’ll keep this one)
- Show parental relationship (which would be listed on the birth certificate / adoption decree)
- Present parents’ ID (driver’s license, valid or expired US passport, valid foreign passport, military ID, etc)
- Bring a photocopy of the parent IDs
- Show parental consent (by both parents appearing or presenting evidence like a court order granting sole custody or a special notarized form signed by the parent who is not appearing, etc — more detail on the state department website)
- Provide a photo
- Pay standard passport fees (via check/money order)
- Submit the application in person at a passport acceptance facility
You can read more about each of those items at the State Department site, but I’ll pass along a few tips we gleaned from the process:
Don’t forget to request a large book (if you want one)
Passports come in two sizes — “standard” (28 pages) and “large” (52 pages). The cost is the same, so if you travel often you’ll want the larger book. I’d always suggest getting the larger book since you can no longer add pages to a current passport; if you fill it up, you’ll have to apply for a renewal. In other words, you’ll end up paying double the cost if you don’t get the big book from the get-go and end up needing it. But we didn’t get the larger book for our son. That was not intentional.
The State Department site gives you two options for completing form DS-11: either print a PDF copy and write out the form or use their “form filler”, which gives you a series of boxes to fill in online and then generates a printable, typed PDF format with your answers pre-filled. I type a lot faster than I write, and I have never been accused of having remarkably legible handwriting, so I was happy to do the online form-filler. I filled in the blanks it provided and hit print. Truth be told, I may not have looked at it closely beyond making sure his name and birthday were correct. Rookie mistake. It wasn’t until I put his passport together with ours that I realized his was so much thinner and I caught my mistake. I went back to the website and saw that you can choose the standard or large passport with a check box at the top of form DS-11. I pulled up the PDF copy of his passport application that was generated by the form filler….and sure enough, it marked “regular” even though I am 99.8% sure that it never asked which we wanted in the form filler.
On the bright side (umm…sort of), passports for children under 16 are only valid for 5 years, versus the standard 10 for adults. That’s kind of understandable since the way a child looks will vary significantly as they grow. Unfortunately, they don’t charge you half price for a passport with half the validity period….though you do get a little bit of a break, paying about thirty bucks less for a child’s passport. I don’t know as though we will travel enough before he is 5 to run out of space — but neither will I be too excited about a third round of passport fees between now and the time he is 10 if we have the good fortune of travelling more than I expect. I regret not looking at that more closely.
Baby passport photos
You only need to submit one photo with the passport application (2″x2″), but most places that take them print them in sets of two. Turns out that’s not a bad thing — the employee accepting our application said it is a good idea to keep a spare on you in case you lose your passport while you’re abroad and you need to apply for a replacement. I imagine the photo is probably not the most challenging part of getting your passport replaced, but it’ll be easy enough to toss an extra of each of us in the travel bag with other emergency stuff, so I’m glad to have gotten two.
In terms of the photo itself, the rules are more lax for children than adults (though they still appear to be fairly strict in some ways). For an infant, they suggest either lying the baby on a white blanket or sheet so that the baby’s head is supported without a hand (you can’t have anyone else in the photo). Alternatively, and likely much easier, is to cover a car seat with a white sheet and take the photo in the seat. Interestingly, “A photo with the child looking at the camera is preferred, although not required”. That at least makes your life a little easier.
On the other hand, if you see the page on passport photos and you look at the examples of “children” photos, you’ll see that they are particular about how the photo should look — no shadows, no objects, the face can’t be obscured, etc. I tried to take my own photo at home, but I kept thinking there was a little too much shadow cast by his head or it wasn’t quite clear enough, etc. This one was probably the best of the bunch I took (with my phone), but I wasn’t sure if he could be smiling (as adults can not smile).
So off to Rite Aid we went to hire an expert. The location we chose had apparently never done an infant photo before and the worker seemed uncomfortable with it, but we eventually convinced her to just grab her camera and snap a photo so we could print it and get to the post office (our local acceptance facilities are almost all post offices) before it closed. It took a couple of rounds to get it right as the Rite Aid employee seemed to struggle a bit with it, but we got it done. I was concerned that the photo was still a little overexposed, but we didn’t have much time to spare, so we took it to the post office. The postal employee ensured us that the photos were fine.
On the plus side, I had Googled “Rite Aid passport photos” before leaving the house and found that on their deals page they had a coupon for $7 passport photos (regularly $14). I was happy to save a few bucks somewhere. That coupon has since expired, but here’s the page with printable coupons where you can check for one in the future.
How much does it cost?
As noted above, you get a small discount on fees for children. Currently, the passport fees for children under 16 are:
- $80 for a passport book
- $15 for a passport card
- $35 acceptance fee
We opted not to get a passport card, so the cost was $115 before the fees to expedite it. Expedited service costs an additional $60 and you can pay $15.89 for 1-2 day delivery on top of that (which we did).
How fast can you get an infant passport?
The State Department site says that standard processing time is 4-6 weeks and expedited processing is 2-3 weeks. In our case, it took 8 days. That’s calendar days, not business days. I was impressed with the speed of turnaround time. I was also surprised the day it came in the mail because I had checked the application status the night before the passport arrived and the status said that it was in the final processing stages and would be mailed on approximately [Date X], where that date was still a few days in the future. Obviously, the status checker didn’t have the most up-to-date info since not only was the processing done, the passport was on its way to be delivered.
The process of getting an infant passport is pretty easy. The State Department website has the key info you need. That said, if I had it to do over again, I would have printed form DS-11 and handwritten it. Then, I’d have likely caught the check box for the larger passport. Keep in mind that both parents will need to appear or you’ll need additional documentation and that you’ll need to tell the acceptance officer if you need to expedite the process (I indicated this in the form filler, but it doesn’t actually show up on the application). While standard processing time is 4-6 weeks, you might be able to get it in just over a week with expedited processing if you’re in a hurry. If you need it faster than that, you might be able to make an appointment for same-day service at a passport agency or center — I had to do that once as an adult and do not see anything indicating that this would be impossible for a child if you are in a pinch. Otherwise, the mail service is plenty efficient if you’re planning even a little bit in advance.