Guide to getting your child’s passport

Getting your child’s first passport is a major travel milestone.

However, getting that perfect passport photo of an infant that can’t raise their head, ensuring both parents are available to go and apply in person, and keeping track of renewing the passport every five years (really, every 4 1/2 years) is slightly less exciting.

But if you want to leave the country with your whole family, you must put in the work to have the fun. So, here’s what you need to know about obtaining your child’s U.S. passport.

Child passport basics

Wait until your baby is born and then request that birth certificate

You can do lots of things to prepare for life “after baby” before your baby is born. Unfortunately, getting a passport isn’t one of those things you can check off the list in advance.

Sit tight and once your tiny traveler arrives, immediately request a certified birth certificate, which is necessary for obtaining the passport. You’ll need the “long form” version of the birth certificate that comes from the Bureau of Vital Statistics and not a commemorative version you may get from the hospital. The birth certificate will need the registrar’s signature and must be embossed, impressed or have a multicolored seal of the registrar.

The exact process of getting the birth certificate varies around the country, but it’s often possible to request one within the first week or two of life. You don’t have to have your baby’s social security number to get a passport. However, if you have one, you must provide it.

Make an appointment

If you need your child’s passport ASAP due to a family emergency, try to make an appointment with a passport agency for life or death circumstances. However, know these are extremely limited.

Those with international travel in three business days may qualify for a life-or-death emergency appointment if you have a family member outside of the U.S. who has died, is dying or has a life-threatening illness or injury, per the U.S. Department of State.

For urgent non-emergency travel within 14 days, call 877-487-2778 to make an in-person appointment at a passport agency or center. Note these appointments are also limited.

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Otherwise, you must submit your child’s completed passport application — including supporting documents, photo and fees — in person at a passport acceptance facility. This may require making an appointment.


When searching passport acceptance facilities, you’ll see courthouses and post offices on the list of approved places to complete the passport application process in person. In many cases, you’ll need to make an appointment at these acceptance facilities before just showing up and assuming they can assist you. This is true even at places that previously accepted walk-ins.

Have passport photos made


Some acceptance facilities will take your passport photos on-site, but many don’t. Again, don’t assume without double-checking.

Basic passport photo rules are that you need to submit one color photo taken within the last six months using a plain white background. The photo needs to be 2 inches by 2 inches in size. Within that space, the head must be between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (25 to 35 millimeters) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. You can’t make any alterations or use filters.

The photo will require a neutral expression or natural smile with both eyes open. You will need to face the camera straight-on with your face in full view.

In the photo, your child cannot wear glasses, masks, hats, uniforms and so on. They’ll need to wear everyday clothes and take everything off the head except for some basic jewelry (if desired) that doesn’t obstruct their face.

There is a little more leeway with passport photos of babies than for older children and adults. For example, an infant’s eyes don’t have to be open or entirely open.

Getting a newborn to look right at the camera with their eyes can be hard, so just do your best to check all the other boxes. You can put a child in a car seat with a white or off-white blanket behind the child to get the photo if that helps. We’ve also done it with our youngest lying on a white sheet when she was an infant.

Some websites help crop your homemade passport photo to the appropriate dimensions if you go this DIY route.

Gather your paperwork


Before your appointment, you must complete some paperwork.

For most U.S.-born infants, you will need the following items to apply for a U.S. passport:

  • Completed, unsigned DS-11 form.
  • Certified birth certificate meeting the criteria outlined above (which serves as both evidence of U.S. citizenship and evidence of relationship). If the parents’ full names are not both listed on the birth certificate, you will need some additional documentation, or you can utilize a fully valid, undamaged U.S. passport (which may be expired) as proof of citizenship. (Digital copies of the birth certificate will not suffice.)
  • A copy of the front (and back, if there is printed information) of the U.S. citizenship evidence you’re submitting.
  • Evidence of the parental relationship. This may be the birth certificate but could also be an adoption decree, divorce/custody decree or similar document.
  • Parent’s ID. (A valid driver’s license or passport will work.)
  • Copy of each identification document (front and back).
  • Both parents need to appear in person with the child if the child is under 16, or you may be able to complete form DS-3053 in the presence of a certified notary public if it is not possible to appear together.
  • Submit an eligible passport photo of the child.
  • Payment for fees (total fees will likely be $135 or more depending on your specific needs — $100 to the State Department and $35 to the acceptance facility). Be aware that you may need to pay the acceptance facility separately from the application fee, so bring a few checks. If you have a photo taken at the facility, you’ll likely need to pay some additional amount for that as well.

Child passports are only valid for 5 years (and not even really that long)

Adult U.S. passports are typically valid for 10 years, so it may not even cross your mind that your kid’s passport has expired after just five years if they obtained it when they were under 16. Plus, many countries won’t allow you to visit with fewer than six months left on a passport. This makes the true life of a child’s passport shorter than five years.

To make things extra complex, the passport expiration and renewal rules change when kids turn 16 and again when they reach 18.

Kids can’t just renew passports


Most adults can renew their passports by mail. So, the second time around, the renewal should be easy for kids, too, yes? Wrong.

Unfortunately, you can’t just renew a kid’s passport. You must get an entirely new one in person, just like the first time.

Bottom line

While you are thinking about your child’s passport, it’s also probably a good time to think through whether your family would benefit from your kids having Global Entry or Clear, both of which would be separate applications.

Getting your child’s passport is not fun, and it will take more effort than you are probably used to when getting your own passport. However, once it is done, you’ll have about 4 1/2 years of passport stamps to collect and memories to make.

Read on for additional child passport-related tips:

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