How to Get a Passport
I have never had the opportunity or made an opportunity for myself to travel outside the continental United States. I thought maybe I would leave the country when I went on my LDS mission, but I went to Pennsylvania which is now one of my favorite places in the world. I also did not go on a study abroad experience during college, I went to Washington D.C. for an internship instead. Consequently I have never possessed a U.S. Passport or gone through the process of getting one. That was until recently.
Why get a Passport?
I had never applied for a passport before because I had no reason to. I wasn't leaving the country so I didn't need one. For me the reason to finally get one was because of a special trip we are going on this summer (watch the blog for more on that). It isn't cheap to get a passport so I don't know that you should rush out and get one without a reason, but it can also take a while to receive your passport. So if you need to be able to travel quickly for business or some other reason you should probably start early.
What You Need:
I was applying for a new adult passport (an adult is 16 or older). For that you need to have filled out the proper application form(DS-11), have your driver's license or ID card, and your birth certificate. Note that you do not have to bring your social security card, but you will need to provide the number on the form. You will also need to have a 2 in. by 2 in. photo of yourself, although this picture can be taken at the time you apply if the location you apply at has the facilities.
There are other ways to prove your identity if you don't have your driver's license and/or birth certificate, but they are complicated. My favorite is bringing someone else who has proper ID to swear that you are the person you say you are.
I found the wiki how article to be very helpful in figuring everything out.
Where to Go:
There are only a few places you can go to get a passport. You can find locations in your area by using this website. One thing you want to look for is if the location also takes pictures, although this will incur an additional cost it is worth it to know it is done right and won't be rejected. In my area only the post office did pictures so that is where I went.
How Long Does it Take?
There are two parts to the how long does it take question. The first part is, how long do I have to stand in line to submit my application? and the second part is, how long will it take my passport to arrive?
Unfortunately neither of these questions are easy to answer. Meagan and I stood in line at the post office for about an hour, there were about 5 or 6 people in line ahead of us when we arrived. Many more people showed up after us, probably about 10 or so. Part way into our time there the man behind the counter asked us to close the door to that part of the post office because he would have to go on lunch break soon. 3 or 4 more people tried to come in after that but were told to come back in the afternoon. A few of the people in line behind us gave up waiting and left, saying they would come back another time. I imagine that the experience differs widely by location and timing, but I would say always give yourself a couple of hours at least and don't expect it to be fast.
As far as waiting for my passport to arrive it only took a couple weeks for the passport to arrive and my birth certificate came back shortly thereafter. Meagan's renewal and name change took about a week longer. They told us to expect it to take about 6 weeks, so don't push it too close to your trip unless you want to pay extra for an expedited passport.
In the end getting a U.S. passport was not as painful a process as I had anticipated, but that was mostly because Meagan filled out all the forms for me and helped me know where to go and what to do. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time both when you apply and while you are waiting.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and represents my personal experience. It should not take the place of checking with the proper government websites and agencies yourself.