Raising Little Travelers: How to Get a Passport for Your Baby

PHOTO: everst / Shutterstock

Let’s make a traveler out of your baby, shall we?

Traveling with your newborn for the first time is all about patience, but traveling internationally with your baby for the first time is all about the process. Every passenger leaving the United States is required to hold a valid passport—even newborns. Getting that first passport for your baby, whether he’s two-weeks or two-months-old, involves a slightly different process than getting one for yourself, and a few extra pieces of paper. The Department of State outlines the steps clearly, but here are a few extra tips to make it seamless, especially if you’re planning to start traveling internationally soon after birth.

Get the Birth Certificate ASAP

You can’t apply for a passport until you have your baby’s birth certificate. Make sure to fill out the paperwork for the birth certificate as soon as your baby is born to get the process started, as it can take a few weeks for it to come in. You’ll also need to provide a social security number (SSN); if your baby’s SSN hasn’t come in yet, you’ll need to write a letter of declaration stating that one has not been received yet. In other words: no SSN means no problem, but no letter of declaration means no passport.

INSIDER TIPRequest at least one extra copy of your child’s birth certificate. You’ll need to send in an original when applying for a passport, so it’s smart to have an extra one at home in case you need it for something else while the application process is underway.

Make an Appointment

Although not all application facilities require an appointment, waiting in line with a baby isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Call ahead to schedule an appointment or book one online here. Just remember that you only get 15 minutes, so have all your paperwork ready when you show up.

Prep the Paperwork

You could wait to fill out the paperwork in the application office, but there’s no point risking filling out forms with a crying infant when you can fill everything out at home. Everything is available online now, so come armed with a filled out form (use this one for ages 0-16), copies of both parent’s driver’s licenses, and your baby’s original birth certificate (bring an extra copy just in case) so you don’t spend too long at the office.

Apply Early

Whether you are traveling internationally with your baby soon or not, it’s smart to apply early so you can dodge some of the strict photo requirements and make life easier for yourself and your baby. The Department of State requires eyes to be open in all passport photos…something that is PFD (pretty freaking difficult) with babies. Thankfully, the guidelines are more relaxed for newborns, where the goal is simply that the child’s “best likeness” is captured, which ultimately means they can have their eyes partially or even completely closed. Another reason to apply early is that routine processing times can take up to 8 weeks. If you need the passport soon, definitely pay the extra charge ($60) to expedite the passport (arrives within 2-3 weeks).

The Department of State requires eyes to be open in all passport photos…something that is PFD (pretty freaking difficult) with babies.

Bring Backup

Unlike with an adult’s passport, there’s no option to mail in the forms from home when applying for one for your child (ages 0-16). Both parents need to be physically present with the child at the local U.S. Post Office or application office. If you decide to pay the $15 to have them take the photo for you at the office, having an extra set of hands could come in handy since those little hands tend to creep up to baby’s mouth or eyes as soon as the flash goes off. Hold your baby with a white sheet (bring one from home) and then have your partner (or a friend) hold baby’s hands down to minimize the number of flashes in your baby’s eyes.

Take the Photo at Home

You don’t have to get the picture taken at the passport office, but you will need to make sure the photo meets all the requirements from the Department of State (DOS) if you do it at home. Two of the best ways to snap a DOS approved shot of your newborn are to either drape a white sheet over a car seat so his head is propped up, or lay a white sheet on the floor and place your baby on the sheet. Whichever way you choose, make sure the baby is the only person in the photo and there are no shadows on his face.

Note: While there is no official cutoff for when the eyes must be open for a baby, the decision is left to the discretion of the adjudicating official so it’s best to take the photo as early as possible just to be safe. Regardless of the eyes being opened or closed, the passport will remain acceptable for the duration of the passport’s validity period.

Bring a Checkbook

Although local fees (for photos, etc.) can be paid by cash or credit card, most offices require a personal check or money order for the passport itself.

Check Your Child’s Passport Expiration Dates

Unlike an adult’s passport that is valid for 10 years, a newborn’s passport is only valid for five years, so make sure to keep an eye on the expiration date of your baby’s passport so you know when it’s time to renew. From the time your baby receives his first passport until he reaches the age of 16, he will need to get his passport renewed every five years. Remember, both parents need to be present every time you renew your child’s passport.

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