Travel Hacking » The Cheapskate’s Guide to Getting Your First Passport

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Getting Your First Passport

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The Cheapskate’s Guide to Getting Your First Passport

The first step to a life-changing international vacation is procuring your passport. If this is your first rodeo, here’s how to make the passport application process as painless (and cheap) as possible.

Plan to file at least two months in advance.

If you’re procrastinating on a passport application, you are playing with fire, especially if you’ve already bought your airline flight or cruise tickets. Applications start flooding in around holidays, so plan accordingly and submit yours before the rush begins. “Way in advance” is always better than “a little too late.”

A Routine Passport takes 6-8 weeks.
An Expedited Passport takes 3-4 weeks and requires an additional fee of $60 (as of 2019)
An Expedited Passport at an Agency takes 6-8 business days (based on need and restrictions do apply!)

Ignore all of those Private Passport Expediting Agencies!

Passport agencies have the power to expedite passports in as little as a one-day turnaround, which means they get to hike up their prices. These are for jet-setters with cash to burn, who spend so much time in the air, they forget to renew; or for those in emergency situations, such as a death in the family with a funeral to attend. Keep in mind that to get an expedited passport one must prove need, rather than desire.

By planning in advance, you should never need to call these agencies. Know where to go ahead of time; search online for passport acceptance centers in your area, or call your local post office. Busier areas might require an appointment up to a month in advance, so contact them early.

Passport Book or Passport Card?

When in doubt, opt for the passport book; The passport card is valid for travel via land or sea to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The passport card is NOT valid for air travel.

Take your own photos.

There is no need to buy an expensive camera; your passport photos are so tiny and nondescript, you could take them with a smartphone. The Bureau of Consular Affairs requires:


  • One color photo, printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • 2×2 inches in size (51×51 mm)
  • Head must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
  • Wearing normal everyday clothing (as opposed to a Halloween costume)
  • Taken in front of a plain white (or off-white) background
  • You should be facing the front, with a neutral expression — a natural smile is fine, but no joke photos!
  • If you wear glasses normally, you must remove them first

If you’ve already taken your photo and aren’t sure if it meets these standards, the bureau has an online photo tool to help you crop and chop it to perfection. If you don’t have a photo printer (or a friend with one), many convenience stores will take and print your photo for as little as $1.

Get all your effects in order, right now.

You’ll need a state driver’s license or photo ID, an application (print it online or grab one at the post office, or online at the bottom of this article), that passport photo as specified above, and your official birth certificate. If you don’t have your birth certificate, many states let you order it online for $20 or less, even if you no longer live in that state. Keep in mind this process can take 2-4 weeks by US Mail. Please note that photocopies of a birth certificate will be declined.

If you’ve had a gender designation change passports are valid for different lengths of time depending on where you are in your transition.

You’ll also need money, of course; a government-mandated fee applies to all new passport applications. When paying the passport fee, the acceptable forms of payment are Checks (personal, certified, cashier’s, traveler’s) and money orders payable to “U.S. Department of State” The silver lining is, you won’t have to pay it again for nearly a decade.

Here are the current fees for obtaining a passport:

(2019 Rates)


In the event that you’re a divorced parent obtaining a passport for a minor child, that other parent will need to sign a statement of consent before a passport can be issued.

Fill out the Passport Form Online, Print and bring to an acceptance facility: Complete a Passport Application Here

If you’d like to locate the nearest passport acceptance facility you can do so online here: Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page

Check the Status of your Passport Application Here: US Passport Application Status

Getting organized for your first passport can motivate you to plan the rest of your upcoming vacation. Now that you’ve cleared the first step, it’s time to get excited about the adventure of a lifetime.

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