We love to travel, and I’ve had a child passport for each of my kids since they were tiny. Whether you have travel planned or just want the security of knowing your kids have a minor passport if they ever need it, here’s all you need to know.
Unlike adult passports, a child passport is valid for only five years. That makes sense given how quickly kids change and grow. The good news? A passport for a minor costs less than an adult passport at least!
For the last few years, we’ve gone on a cruise each spring break. While we don’t need a passport, we feel more comfortable traveling with one. It makes reentry after the cruise easier and faster, too.
We plan to head out somewhere fun again this year, and I happened to check my kids’ passports over winter break. That’s when I discovered they expire in mid April. While spring break ends on April 1, I don’t like to travel so close to a passport expiration date. What happens if we end up in a worst case scenario with a sick kid in a foreign country and have to stay?
In general, experts recommend ensuring your passport is valid for at least six months past your planned travel date. Some countries won’t let you in if your passport is expiring soon – so always check the current passport restrictions for anywhere you plan to travel.
When I traveled to Beaches Resorts a little over a year ago, I could not check in online for my flight because my passport expired within six months. That meant I had to check in with an agent at the airport and added more time to my travel – yet another reason to keep your passport current!
Even if you have your own passport, a child passport has several idiosyncrasies that make the application process a little different. Read on to learn all you need to know to minimize any confusion or frustration when you apply to get a child passport for your own kid!
How to Apply for a Child Passport
You can never renew a child passport
Unlike an adult passport, you never really “renew” a child passport. Instead, you have to complete a brand new application each time. You can’t rely on your old passport for identification or verification purposes the way you can with an adult passport.
Once your child is sixteen and has applied for his first “adult” passport, then you can renew the passport by mail (and avoid the $25 execution fee).
What do you need to bring to apply for a passport?
When you apply for a child passport, whether your child has had a passport in the past or not, you must still bring all the required forms of identification for both your and your child.
You need to bring:
- Proof of citizenship – which means an original US birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth. While you can use your child’s current passport for this purpose (expired or not), it won’t work for the next piece!
- A photocopy of your proof of citizenship. Make sure this is a black and white copy on a white 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and single sided. If your proof of citizenship has writing on two sides, make sure you make a copy of each side on separate pieces of paper.
- Proof of parental relationship – US birth certificate or consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth, foreign birth certificate, adoption decree, divorce/custody decree.
- Your ID – valid in-state driver’s license, undamaged US passport (current or expired), certificate of naturalization or citizenship, governmental employee ID (if you work for the city, county, state, or federal government), US military ID or military dependent ID, valid foreign passport, or Mexican consular identification.
- A photocopy of your ID – again this has to be both sides of the ID in black and white on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of white paper but not double sided!
- Your child’s social security number. If you filled out the form at home, you do not need to bring this with you to the passport processing agency so long as you filled out the information on the form
- Your child’s passport photo – make sure you have one that fits the requirements (see below)
Can I at least fill out the passport application in advance?
Absolutely! You can print a .pdf of the US passport application and fill it out at any time. If you fill it out, make sure you use only black ink. If you make a mistake and use blue ink or any other color, you will have to fill out a new passport when you apply. Black ink only – can I stress that enough?
If you have questions about some parts of the application, you can leave them blank and ask during your in person passport application. A couple common question areas:
- Remember to select what kind of passport (book or card or both) you want, as well as whether you need a regular or large book if you choose to get a passport book.
- Make sure you do not attach the photo to your application yourself. Bring the unattached photo with you.
- When filling out the parental information, make sure to include the name information at birth. That means that Mom may need to use her maiden name in the name section and not her married name. (Yes, I’ve forgotten that before and had to redo my application)
- When they ask if “you’ve” ever been married, the application refers to the applicant. Most likely your child under 16 has not been married, right? It seems silly, but remember to check that box. You can then skip the remainder of the questions in that section once you check no.
- If you don’t have current travel plans, write “none” in the space there. You can’t leave it blank.
- You can skip the permanent address if it’s the same as the address filled out earlier in the application.
- If your child has a passport currently, remember to fill out that yes, they have one and then complete the remaining questions, including checking if you are submitting it with your application, if it’s expired, etc.
- Did I mention to use only black ink?
Can I mail in my child’s passport application the way I did my passport application?
Nope. Unlike adult passports and passport renewals, you must apply in person with the child. My advice? Make sure you bring something to occupy your child during the passport application process, especially if you cannot make an appointment.
Do you really need both parents there?
Generally, yes. There are exceptions, but with custody issues, etc., even if you are divorced, both parents need to provide permission for a child to apply for a passport.
If one parent cannot be there, you have options.
The easiest is to have a signed a statement of consent that you can download. The statement of consent has to be signed and notarized to be valid. Make sure the signature and notary have the same date, and that date must be within three months of when you apply for the passport.
If you you do a signed statement of consent, you must also bring a photocopy of the parent’s photo ID (see above). Don’t forget that step.
If one parent is deceased, you must bring the death certificate. Keep in mind that all documents must be the originals and not copies (except the photocopy duplicate you send in with your application where noted).
If you have sole custody of your child and the other parent is not involved in the child’s life, you must show proof of this. Bring the court order showing you have sole authority to apply for the child’s passport.
You can also try to request exigent circumstances that make it impossible to get the notarized consent of the second parent through a special circumstances form. This form doesn’t guarantee that your child’s passport application will be approved. However, if you attempted to contact the other parent and failed, this remains an option.
Does your child need to be present?
Absolutely. Unlike some other requirements, there is no exception. You must bring your child when you apply for the passport. If your child is old enough to respond, the person reviewing your application will ask the child if you are his parents.
For how long is a kid passport valid?
Your child’s passport is valid for five years from the date of issue (not the date of application).
When you receive your passport, if you look on the information page, you can easily see the date of issue and the date of expiration. The expiration date will be five years minus a day from the issuance date. For example, if you have a passport issued on July 20, 2018, your child’s passport will expire on July 19, 2023.
What ages are considered a child for passport purposes?
You apply for a child passport for anyone under age 16. Once your child turns 16, he receives an adult passport valid for 10 years and can – at the next expiration period – do a passport renewal via mail versus applying for a new passport in person.
This includes infants. You can apply for a passport as soon as your child is born. The fee is the same whether your child is one month old or 15 years old. The fee only changes at age 16 when the passport turns into a 10 year passport.
Should I get a passport book or a passport card?
The passport card is significantly cheaper than the passport book. However, the challenge with the passport card is that it is not valid for international air travel.
If you plan to just drive to Mexico and Canada or via sea ports of entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, the passport card works. If you aren’t sure or you plan to fly internationally, get a passport book.
How much does it cost to get a minor passport?
It depends on what kind of passport you choose to get. If you get a passport card, the cost is $15 for the card itself. If you choose to get a traditional passport book, the cost for the book is $80.
You can choose to get both a passport book and a passport card for $95. If you travel often and anticipate you will use up the pages of a passport book before it expires, you can request an expanded passport book at no additional cost just like you can with an adult passport application. There’s a check box at the top of the first page to mark.
In addition to the application fee, you must also pay an execution fee of $25, which covers the in person review of the application. There is no getting around this fee, and you must pay it separately from your application fee. Just like the passport application fee, the execution fee is per child not per family.
If you need the passport in a hurry, you can pay to expedite the process. This adds $60 to the above fees. There is also an overnight delivery service available once your child passport has been approved for an additional $15.45.
What forms of payment can I use?
You cannot use a credit card to pay for your passport application at a passport acceptance facility. If you go to a passport agency, you have more options – but those are strictly for documented travel in under four weeks. Some facilities accept credit cards for the processing fee, but don’t count on it. No facility we’ve been to accepts credit cards.
The easiest form of payment is check. You can use a personal check to pay for your passport application, as well as a certified check, cashier’s check, or traveler’s check. You can also pay with a money order. Whichever you choose, make it out to US Department of State.
Most locations I’ve visited accept personal checks to pay for the processing fee, as well. All locations also accept money orders, and some accept cash (exact change only) and credit cards for the processing fee portion only.
Note that the processing fee gets paid to the facility where you apply, so it doesn’t get made out to US Department of State like the passport application. The facility will tell you what to write.
Can I pay for multiple passports with one check?
Yes, you can! If you have multiple children, you can write a single check for the application fee for all your passport applications. Then write another single check for all your execution fees. That makes things slightly easier.
What kind of photo do I need to bring?
The passport photo rules are strict. Make sure your passport photo meets the requirements. When my daughter was a baby, we didn’t think accidentally dressed her in a white dress with a blue bow. She looked like a floating head, and her passport application could have been rejected.
The photo must be a 2×2 inch square. Make sure your head is 1″-1 3/8″ from your chin to the top of your head. Most passport photo places know how to do this easily!
The photo must be in color, and your child must look straight ahead at the camera with both eyes open. If your child wears glasses, make sure to remove them before you take the photo. If your child cannot remove glasses for medical reasons, you must include a note from your doctor explaining this.
You may smile in the photo, though you must look “natural” in the photo. That means no big cheesy grins. You used to not be able to smile in a photo at all, but this has changed. In the goal of looking natural, wear the same type of clothes you normally do, nothing special or fancy.
You may not wear a hat or head covering in the photo. If you do so for religious reasons, you must submit a signed statement that verifies this is part of “recognized, traditional religious attire that is customarily or required to be worn continuously in public.” If you need to wear a hat for medical reasons, submit a signed doctor’s note.
The photo must be on a white or off white background. If you have an infant, the easiest way to do this is to put a white sheet in the carseat. Then place the child in the car seat over the sheet. You can also lay an infant on a white blanket or sheet, but with my luck, your child would roll and not get that full head on look. You cannot show a hand or other body part propping your child up.
Where do I go to apply for a child passport?
You can apply for your passport at most post offices, which is where most people apply. Many libraries also take passport applications, as do many clerks of the court and local government offices. You can easily search to see locations near you and their hours.
How long does it take for my child’s passport to arrive?
Typically, it takes four to six weeks from your application date to receive your passport. A lot depends on the volume of applications when you apply. Once you apply, you can check the status 7-10 days after you applied to see where it is, though this won’t tell you how much longer it has to go.
If you apply for an expedited child passport, it takes two to three weeks.
How long does the in person application process take?
The actual application review takes about ten minutes. The person processing checks your application to ensure it is fully and correctly filled out, verifies your photo meets the requirements, checks your required identification, and has you verbally swear that the information is correct, etc.
If you don’t fill out the form in advance, add time to fill that out, as well. The biggest question is the wait time. When you walk into a post office, you may be the only one coming to get a child passport. With my luck, you may be the tenth person in line.
You may find alternate locations that make waiting easier. We have a nearby library that is a passport acceptance facility. We like going there because my kids can hang out in comfy chairs and read books until they call us to let us know it’s our turn. This tends to work best for us because it can easily be a half hour wait or longer.
If you go to a passport agency because you need a passport quickly, you can make an appointment. This reduces your wait time obviously!
Are you ready to travel now that you know how to get a child passport application through? What else do you need to know?
Don’t forget that if you’re traveling often, you may want to look into getting Global Entry for you. Your children need it once they hit 13. If you have TSA PreCheck, this works when you leave the country but doesn’t expedite your reentry to the States. You can see all you need to know about applying for TSA PreCheck here.