Passports for Babies Have Special Rules: Here’s What You Need to Know to Get One

From application requirements to how soon you can apply to get a passport for your newborn, here’s what you need to know about how to get a passport for a baby.

Father with child son in carrier backpack walking through streets of the old center of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Getting an infant’s passport is similar to getting one for a grown adult, but you have to do it in person.

Photo by Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

Babies come with a lot of baggage (literally and figuratively) but don’t let that stop you from taking them abroad—the younger you start, the easier it is (or will be). But before you can enter another country with baby on board, you’ll need to get your little one a passport. Here’s what you need to know.

Start the process as early as possible—after they’re born

Sorry to all you pre-planners, but you can’t apply for a passport before you give birth. But as soon as you do, and you feel up to the task, you should apply for your infant’s passport. Getting one takes just as long as anyone else’s, and current wait times for a first-time passport range from 10 to 13 weeks.

Make an in-person appointment

For all children under 16, you cannot apply for a passport (or renewal) through the mail, you must go in person to an authorized facility (usually a post office or library). It’s important to note that all legal parents should be present with the child at the time of application. If there are two parents and both cannot be there, the absent parent must fill out a notarized DS-3053 consent form along with a photocopy of their ID. If there is only one legal parent in the child’s life, bring paperwork that shows they have sole custody or are the sole parent—if the child’s birth certificate only lists the applying parent, that is sufficient.

For my youngest, we went to the Central Library in Brooklyn, which has a beautiful and, most importantly, extremely functional passport center. Best of all, they will take the photo for you, which I highly recommend (see below).

Gather your documents

You’ll need to fill out form DS-11, as well as several documents proving your baby is, well, your baby, and a U.S. citizen. You’ll need your child’s U.S. birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or their certificate of citizenship. Luckily, a birth certificate is also proof of parental relationship. Otherwise, you’ll need a foreign birth certificate, adoption decree, or divorce or custody decree in addition to the citizenship document. Be sure to bring the original and a photocopy of each document—don’t worry, the birth certificate will be mailed back to you at the end of the process. This applies for all minors until they are age 16.

In addition, each parent or guardian will need an unexpired ID like a driver’s license or passport (the original and a photocopy).

Let someone else take the photos, and do it lying down

While there are apps out there that help you take an acceptable passport photo at home, with a baby it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Photographing babies is hard, and in this case—when positioning, proportions, and sizing matters—it’s even more complicated. Check your local Walgreens, passport photo shops, or other travel centers to see if they photograph babies. Some passport facilities offer an option to take the photo there—a service I took advantage of, and one that made our lives easier. Since you are not allowed to hold the baby in the picture, the simplest method is to lay the baby down on a white posterboard and take the photo from above.

Parents might be surprised to learn that the infant’s eyes do not need to be open in their photo. I assumed I would have to wake up my napping baby when it came time to take him for his photo shoot. Nope! The staff at the library just had me lay him down on the white posterboard, still asleep. His eyes are closed in his photo, and I’ve never had an issue. This only works for infants. According to the Department of State’s FAQ on passport photos, “It is acceptable if an infant’s eyes are not open or entirely open. All other children must have their eyes open.”

Pay up front

At the appointment, you’ll have to make two separate payments: $100 to the U.S. Department of State and a $35 fee paid to the facility executing the process. To expedite, it’s an additional $60.

Your baby’s passport will come in the mail

Like adults’ passports, your baby’s passport will be mailed to you. The official processing time as of September is 10 to 13 weeks (not including mailing times, which the Department of State says can take up to two weeks). Expedited processing takes between seven and nine weeks. If you have a ticket for international travel within 14 days, you can apply in person at a passport agency, where it will be expedited. You can subscribe to email updates of the application status.

It’s good for five years

As opposed to adult passports, which are valid for 10 years, passports for children under 16 are only good for five years. Be sure to give yourself enough time to renew—and remember that the renewal must be done in person until the child is 16.

Devorah Lev-Tov is a Brooklyn-based food and travel journalist who has been published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Vogue, Bon Appetit, and more.
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