After spending countless hours researching and cobbling together your international family vacation itinerary – from pinpointing kid-friendly activities to booking flights and accommodations – the last thing you want to encounter is a snag at airport security. While it may seem like an arduous task to get your child a passport, it's a critical step to cross off early to mitigate frustration later on.
"The world's changing, and I would say it's more important than ever for children, even under 16, to get [a passport] as soon as your travel plans are made," says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. Plus, the U.S. State Department is expecting a hike in passport application renewals in 2017 and 2018, due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative implemented in 2007, which mandates that Americans returning from destinations such as Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico present passports. The initiative triggered a flurry of backlogged renewal requests, a situation that could pop up again since those same 10-year passports issued are set to expire this year. So there's no better time to stay proactive and ensure you – and the kids – have the appropriate documentation before visiting a foreign country.
While the passport-application process is pretty clear-cut for a newborn or minor under age 16, "there are stipulations to consider," says Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs. To help you stay prepared and know what to expect, U.S. News tapped experts offering smart tips for a smooth, headache-free process.
Assemble Your Application Materials
To start the passport application process, you'll need to complete a DS-11 form, the required form for first-time passport applicants as well as for children under age 16, which is available online. You should also gather your child's important documents, including proof of citizenship, like an original (or certified copy of) your child's birth certificate. In addition, you'll need to supply your child's social security number; if you're obtaining a passport for a newborn and his or her social security number has not yet arrived, exceptions can be made, Sprague says. Other acceptable forms of identification include a certificate of citizenship or a consular report of birth abroad. You must show proof of your citizenship and demonstrate your relationship to your child, with documentation such as your birth certificate in addition to a form of photo identification such as a U.S. passport, government employee ID or driver's license. Most importantly, the child must appear in person at an authorized passport facility (a complete list of accepted locations is available on the State Department's website), accompanied by both parents or guardians to satisfy two-parent consent, Sprague says.
Apply in Person
If parents are on the child's birth certificate, they must be accounted for in the process, Sprague says. A few extenuating circumstances allow for exceptions, including a certified court document indicating sole custody to one parent, a signed and notarized statement of consent from the parent via a DS-3053 form, a death certificate if a parent has passed or a special DS-5255 form if a parent is unavailable because she or he has gone missing, Sprague says. You also must bring copies of both parents' IDs, regardless of your situation. While the process is arduous and you must jump through some hoops, it's essential to help prevent international parental child abduction, Sprague explains.
If you've already acquired a passport for a minor, keep in mind, "until a child is 16, their passport is only good for five years," Sprague says. If the expired passport is issued prior to the child's 16th birthday, your child must re-apply for a new passport in person with the DS-11 form. So, if you're planning an overseas trip, it's best to ensure all children are up to date.
Get a Passport-Approved Photo Taken
Like standard adult passport applications, a child's passport application must feature a 2-by-2-inch photo with a white background. When you take your baby or infant to an authorized passport facility to get his or her photo taken, keep in mind the baby's head must be erect, and there must be nothing around the baby's head, such as a hat or a shadow from a parent that would interfere with facial recognition, Sprague says. Also, be sure there isn't a shadow covering the baby's face and that his or her eyes are looking forward.
Make sure you follow photo guidelines to a T to ensure your application does not get rejected, Sprague says. For example, glasses and hats are prohibited and a neutral expression is required, she explains, pointing out that approximately 200,000 passport applications are rejected every year because the photographs submitted do not meet the appropriate requirements.
Expect to Pay a Fee and Account for Processing Times
With the recent spike in passport applications, you should allot six weeks for your child's passport to be processed, Sprague says. And when you submit your DS-11 form in person, keep in mind you'll need to pay a $105 fee, which includes the application and execution cost for the passport. If you need a passport sooner, you can pay a $60 expedited service fee to receive a passport in two to three weeks.
Spagnola also stresses the importance of getting your child a passport sooner rather than later, particularly if you're toying with the idea of an international trip in 2017. With ever-changing visa processing times and stipulations, he says it's become critical to get your passport approved early on. He suggests making an appointment at your nearest acceptance facility and consulting the State Department's website for the most up-to-date information.