Applying for a passport for a baby can seem like an unnecessarily complex and confusing endeavor, given the lack of straightforward answers and potential for misinformation out there for applicants.
If you’re a new parent with upcoming overseas travel, filing application paperwork and figuring out passport photos is probably the last thing you want to think about.
And that’s exactly why Lori and I put together this handy dandy guide for getting baby’s first passport!
What Makes This Guide Special?
This step-by-step guide is based on our own experience applying for a passport for a baby, not one but TWO times with two newborns (two years apart), and my own insider’s experience on the other side of the counter working in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department.
Along the way I learned a thing or two about the process, which includes what it takes to have a successful baby passport application, what gets a passport photo rejected, and how to avoid the most common pitfalls.
In this guide, I’m going to share all those helpful little morsels plus additional lessons we’ve learned as parents going through the process twice.
Processing Times Update April 2023
- As of March 2023, Passport Services processing times seem to have done some back sliding since a year ago, unfortunately.
- Current processing times have creeped up to 10-13 weeks for routine processing and a whopping 7-9 weeks for Expedited service.
- In some cases if you have proof of international within 14 days, you may be able to get your passport quicker. But this is determined on a case-by-case basis at a regional Passport Agency.
- For the most current information on processing times and requirements, be sure to check travel.state.gov before you apply.
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Do Babies Need Passports?
YES!!! Well, at least babies who were born in the U.S. and are planning to travel internationally.
In some cases, you may be able to get away with a passport card (e.g. driving to Canada or Mexico), but for the vast majority of overseas trips, baby, just like everyone else, will need to have a passport.
6 Easy Steps to Applying for a Passport for a Baby
- This article applies to U.S. citizens applying in the U.S. and covers the most common scenarios.
- While we strive to keep this guide as up-to-date as possible, application requirements do change from time to time. So, be sure to check out travel.state.gov for all the latest information regarding applying for a U.S. passport.
Step One — Gather Materials & Info
The Birth Certificate
Applying for a passport for a baby for the first time for anyone of any age generally starts with a birth certificate.
That means that you cannot begin the passport application process BEFORE the baby is born.
It is worth noting here that this guide is going to stick to the most common application scenarios.
There are some situations where the parent(s) or guardian(s) are going to need to show additional documents proving citizenship or proof of relationship.
But in the interest of keeping things simple, we’re going to assume baby was born in one of the fifty U.S. states and was issued a birth certificate from one of those states.
Getting your hands on baby’s birth certificate is different for every state, but regardless of the procedure, the certificate you submit with baby’s passport application will need to:
- Be a certified copy of the birth certificate (NOT the hospital keepsake certificate and not a notarized copy or plain photocopy);
- List both parents (again, we’re just dealing with the most common scenario here).
From experience, I would recommend ordering multiple certified copies of the birth certificate from the registrar’s office at the time of birth. Most hospitals these days incorporate this paperwork into their standard baby delivery paperwork.
If you plan on traveling or moving overseas fairly soon, I recommend requesting at least three certified copies of the birth certificate.
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Social Security Card
You will not be required to submit baby’s social security card, but the application does require baby’s social security number to be written on the form.
In most cases, this shouldn’t be a problem, as most maternity wards in the U.S. include the social security number application in the same packet as the birth certificate application, and in our experience, take about the same time to process.
With that said, if you find yourself in the unique situation in which you’ve already received baby’s birth certificate but haven’t received baby’s social security card, and your travel date is very soon, you can enter 000-00-0000 in the SSN box to proceed with processing the application.
Please keep in mind that this is an exception for newborns only. If you try this with an older child, you’re sure to encounter more than a few headaches in the processing of your application.
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Step Two — Sign Up for a Passport Appointment
Generally speaking, for first-timers (as newborns tend to be for most things), applying for a passport for a baby happens at an acceptance facility in your town (typically a U.S. Post Office).
Though there are ways around it (involving notarized paperwork, etc.), it’s always best for BOTH parent(s)/guardian(s) (whoever’s listed on the birth certificate) to go in with baby.
You’ll need to make your appointment online via travel.state.gov.
Passport processing is taking 10-13 weeks for routine service here in April 2023. If you are traveling before then, you’ll likely need to pay extra for Expedited service and will probably want to pay for overnight shipping (for when it’s sent back to you) as well.
If this applies to you, the agent at the acceptance facility will be able to steer you in the right direction, provided you have your flight itinerary with you.
In rare cases, you can qualify for an appointment at a regional Passport Agency, but you’ll need to provide proof of travel within 14 days to get an appointment.
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Step Three — Get Baby’s Passport Photo Taken
Here it is, everybody’s favorite part about applying for a passport for a baby — getting that elusive passport photo for baby!
Do this step ASAP, and don’t take any chances with the quality, particularly if your international travel plans are within the next 14 days.
We took our own photo (as I do with all of our passport photos), but I do not recommend this for most parents.
That is, unless a) you are confident using a fairly good camera (not a smart phone), desktop imaging software, and have access to high-quality photo printing; AND, b) you know EXACTLY what you are doing and what the requirements are.
The most common reason for an application to get rejected is because of the passport photo. I saw this happen more times than I can count.
Keep in mind that just because the acceptance agent at the post office gives the thumbs up doesn’t 100% mean that baby’s passport photo will be acceptable to the adjudicator or quality control later on down the line.
And getting a photo rejected later in the process can hold up the application for weeks.
That’s why it is so important to get your photos done at a trusty outfit. Professional photographers are almost always a good bet, but tend to be expensive (and a bit overkill for passport photos).
These days, Google and Yelp reviews can give you a pretty good idea of where to get your passport photos done where you live. For example, some branches of FedEx Office, Walgreens, and Walmart might do just fine for the money, while others might not.
Tips for DIY Passport Photos for Baby
If you have basic photography skills and follow the requirements on the State Department’s website to the letter, you can potentially save yourself a good chunk of change by doing the photo yourself—particularly if multiple people in your family are getting passports or you need several photo duplicates for visas, etc.
1. Equipment & Composition
I won’t go into great detail here about camera technique, but you should plan to use a high-resolution camera (10 MP or greater) with minimal lens distortion (i.e. not a wide-angle point and shoot).
Eyes, nose, chin, and even ears should be in focus. f/2.8 to f/4.0 with a 50mm lens generally accomplishes this while having the added benefit of blurring out any imperfections or subtle wall texture on your white or slightly off-white background.
You’ll want to also try to eliminate (or greatly minimize) shadows while aiming to get the clearest, sharpest image your camera is capable of. An angled bounce flash or defuser can work wonders.
For all the official requirements (size, crop, dos and don’ts), check out the USDOS official guide and requirements for passport photos.
2. Capturing the Subject
That’s all well and good, you say, but how am I supposed to get the baby to pose and do the camera’s bidding?
Haha. Well, as you may have figured, there is no surefire way for getting a perfect passport photo of a baby, particularly a newborn.
Perhaps the most helpful tip I can offer is, that unless baby’s old enough to hold their head (and upper body) up all by themselves, you’ll want to take the shot with baby laying on their back on a clean, pattern-free white surface (we used an ironed white sheet, which worked very well).
But even that will only get you so far.
You’ll most certainly want to enlist the help of another adult to lend a hand if one’s available. Your helper’s primary job will be to get baby to look in the general direction of the camera for long enough to get the shot.
This can seem like an impossible task, but with a little patience, everyone eventually gets lucky.
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Out of a dozen shots, we got lucky. Instead of using baby’s favorite toy to get his attention, we found that trying some new, shiny object they have never seen before works wonders.
A quacker or kazoo also works great, though you want to be careful that baby doesn’t completely lose their composure, or it might be very hard to get a clear shot.
And as tempting as it may be, remember no sunglasses, hats, or fake mustaches on baby.
3. Minor Passports (and Photos) Are Good for 5 Years
It’s worth keeping in mind that passports for children under 16 (including newborns) are good for five years.
While you’ll probably want a passport photo of your newborn baby that you can stomach seeing every time you go through immigration, don’t worry too much about the likeness—in a couple of years, your tiny little bundle of joy will look completely different!
Up until age 16, immigration officials rely on an array of factors to positively identify a minor child, not solely relying on the passport photo (though if your five-year-old happens to have a babyface, it certainly won’t hurt matters).
Lastly, do your best to get a good, clear likeness of your little one, but also keep in mind that the State Department does not expect newborn passport photos to be absolutely perfect.
With the right attitude, taking the passport photo yourself can be a great learning experience (and actually a lot of fun). However, if you have any doubts at all and don’t have a lot of time for mistakes, it’s probably best to leave the passport photo to the pros.
Step Four — Complete the DS-11 Application for a U.S. Passport online and print it out.
Now, let’s dive into the paperwork. We’re applying for a passport for a baby, so naturally, there is an application involved.
Fortunately, it’s just a single two-sided form (the first four pages on instructions) and fairly straightforward.
Head to the Passport Forms page, and find ‘Application For A U.S. Passport (DS-11)’. I prefer the web-based ‘Form Filler’ option, as this creates a unique 3D barcode that makes the process more fool-proof.
Complete the application as thoroughly and as accurately as possible.
For “Occupation” it’s fine to write “Baby” or “Infant” for your little one.
A good rule of thumb is not to leave any blanks. If a box truly doesn’t apply (like “Maiden name/ other names used”) simply write “N/A.”
If you’ve got imminent travel plans, make sure that is accurately reflected in the travel plans section.
Step Five — The Passport Appointment for Baby
It’s time to assemble the application packet and head to your appointment!
Bring your application form (DS-11), passport photo, certified copy of birth certificate (PLUS a photocopy), passport fee(s), flight itinerary (if you are traveling soon), both parents’/guardians’ IDs (U.S. passports and/or state-issued drivers licenses are recommended), and any other supporting documents (for special cases, you know who you are) to your appointment.
AND DON’T FORGET THE BABY!
Step Six — Receive Your Baby’s Passport and Enjoy Your Trip!
Most applicants can expect to receive their passport in the mail in 7-13 weeks after application, depending on type of service you paid for.
Remember to sign the passport when you receive it (for a minor, you can sign the full name of the child and write “by mother” or “by father” or “by guardian” next to the signature.
Make a high-resolution scan (and color photocopies) of the passport and store it in a dry and secure place.
And that’s pretty much it!
Wrapping it Up
It’s worth emphasizing that this is only intended as an overview or cheatsheet, to demonstrate how easy the process is for most applicants to apply for a newborn passport.
In addition to this overview, you will most certainly want to thoroughly read the official instructions at travel.state.gov, as application requirements do change from time to time.
If you have questions regarding the process, it’s best to ask the acceptance agent or consult the official web resources.
And remember, this overview won’t apply to everyone, particularly if you are renewing a passport, applying without one of the parents or guardians present, or have other special circumstances.
And That’s Our Guide to Applying for a Passport for a Baby in the U.S.!
Featured image credit: Victoria Akvarel on Pexels
3 thoughts on “How Do I Get My Baby a U.S. passport? (6 EASY Steps)”
What about a social security card? Im reading that this is also required
Good call! I’ll add that to the guide. In short, it’s always best to provide the social on the app. If you have proof of travel prior to receiving baby’s SSN, you can fill in those boxes with zeros (000-00-0000 – this is an exception for newborns only). But it’s always better to have the SSN on the app to make the process smoother for the next time.
Thank you Dave, the article is really great! I used an automatic photo cropper that helped me to take baby passport photo at home (https://passport-photo-software.com/baby-passport-photo-tips.php) and it was super-easy. Didn’t have to go to some service.