Passport to Adventure: Getting a US Passport for a Child

Recently we went to get our fourth passport for my son and I had a revelation. This would be the last minor passport I would be getting for my son and I was floored. I have in total gone through the process for seven minor passports and it’s never as easy as I would like. But it made me realize I have never shared how I get passports for my kiddos. Check out my tips for getting through the unfortunately painful process of securing a passport for your kiddos under sixteen. 

Four United States passports

General Information

Back when I was a baby, infants were attached to their parent’s passport, and they just stapled in a photo and some information. That is no longer the case. We applied for my son’s first passport when he was 3 weeks old.  Passports are generally issued by each country and serve as identification of a person and their nationality. It allows you to enter different countries and return to your country of citizenship. While some form appeared since antiquity, modern passports appeared around World War I as a way to control people crossing the borders during wartime. In the 1980s, the United Nations provided standards that are now used worldwide. 

While adult passports are generally easy enough to get (as long as you are a citizen), minor passports are a different beast than adult passports. Minor passports are only valid for five years (which is really four and a half years since you need six months validity on your passport to enter most countries), so you will have several throughout your child’s life.

A toddler US passport
I’ll keep the cute baby and toddler ones forever…

Forms You Need

Parents need to fill out Form DS-11 to secure a minor’s passport. You can use the website to fill out the information that is needed and print out a pre-filled out form. That is the best way to ensure that you fill out the form properly.  If you are handwriting the application, it’s important that you DO NOT sign the form.  When applying for a minor, both parents are required to sign in front of a witness. That is right, you are required to apply for a minor’s passport in person. Due to some high-profile cases of one parent leaving the country with a child and not returning, there are now requirements that both parents need to give permission for a minor passport. Below I talk about what to do when a parent is not in the picture below. 

Securing a Photo

I will never forget trying to figure out how to take a picture of a newborn for the passport photo. There are a lot of requirements for a passport photo. A few are:

  • There must be a white background
  • No glasses can be worn
  • You can’t smile (really just you can’t show teeth)
  • Photo must be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm)
  • The head on the photo must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head

Check out the state department website for more information. Since I am always nervous about an application being rejected due to the photo not being correct, I always pay for photo services.  Places like CVS or Walgreens will do passport photos for all ages for less than $20.  It’s a small price to pay for piece of mind. 

Infants are the hardest to get photos of, mostly because they don’t understand what you are asking of them. For our infant passport we choose to bring a white blanket to the photo lab and let the infant on the blanket in the stroller or car seat carrier. Since eyes must be open, try and pick a time when your newborn or infant will be awake. And make sure they are fed beforehand so they are happy and not crying, that makes it much harder (and no, they can’t have their pacifier in their photo, trust me, I tried).

If you have a toddler, you can practice at home before going to the photo lab.  The other option is try and take the photo at home, just be sure to be within the measurements. Once the kids get older, it’s easier to get photos as they understand what needs to happen. 

Scheduling the Appointment

Currently (at the time of writing) it’s difficult to get passport. The state department is still understaffed and there are delays in processing. This is also translating into less appointments as well.  First time passport applicants and minors require an in person appointment. You can schedule these appointments at most post offices and city and country offices. You can find locations on the State Department website.  However, they have cut down on any locations that have walk in appointments. Appointments fill up quickly, and the post office only posts their appointments 30 days out. You may need to be flexible. I actually pulled my son out of school to attend his appointment as it was the only one in 50 miles for a month. 

A young boy mailing a letter to Santa
If you can’t get an appointment with the USPS maybe ask Santa for a miracle….

When Both Parents Aren’t in the Picture

I will admit, we are a privileged, traditional family.  My husband and I are together and have some flexibility and we can go for a mid-day appointment. We are able to coordinate to make an appointment and go together. But I also recognize that that is not always the case. Sometimes a parent is dead, is no longer in the picture, or a bitter divorce has made things difficult to make this work. If both parents can not appear in person, here are some ways to still secure a passport.

You have sole legacy custodyYou must submit evidence of this with the application. Examples include:
– Complete court order granting you sole legal custody of the child, such as a divorce decree or other custody order.
– Certified copy of the child’s birth certificate listing you as the only parent
– Certified copy of an adoption decree listing you as the only parent.
– Certified copy of the death certificate of the parent that cannot appear in person
One parent unable to appearThe parent unable to appear can give permission by completing Form DS-3053 “Statement of Consent.” The parent that cannot go with the child must:  
– Sign and date Form DS-3053 in the presence of a certified notary public, and
– Submit a photocopy of the front and back side of the ID that they present to the notary public with Form DS-3053.
You cannot locate the other parent             You must submit Form DS-5525 “Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances.”
Neither parent able to appear A third party may apply for the child’s passport with a Form DS-3053: “Statement of Consent” or a notarized statement from both parents/guardians giving that third party permission to apply for the child.

Check out the State Department website for more details.

A man signing important documentation
If one parent can’t be there to sign, make sure to plan ahead


Minors aged 16 and 17 have a different set of rules.  If the child has their own government ID, they can apply for a passport just having parental awareness AND these passports are now good for 10 years. You can prove parental awareness in a number of ways:

  • Having one legal parent appear with the minor when applying for the passport.
  • Submitted a signed note from the parent with a copy of the parent’s government ID
  • Submit proof of the parent paying for the passport

You can check out more information on the State Department Website.

Once your child is 18, they are a legal adult, and able to get a passport good for 10 years all on their own.  (Though they may still ask for you to pay for it or a ride…)   

A teenager looking at the camera
This teenagers next passport will be valid for 10 years and done on his own

Since my children are 2.5 years apart, and passports need to be renewed every 4.5 years, I am basically getting a new passport every other year.  So, it’s hard for me to believe that this is the last minor passport I will get for my son. By the time it has to be renewed, he will be just close enough to 18 that we will likely wait so he can do it on his own. My daughter will likely have one more minor passport and then she too will be able to do this on her own. While I am ready to be done with this chore, I still look fondly on those little baby passports, and the passports through the years, and know that the kids have so many memories and experiences because we started so young. The processes can be painful, but the outcome is so worth it. 

Passport to Adventure:  Getting a US Passport for a Child

Leave a Reply