How to get a U. S. passport

[Note: This post is part of a series on the paperwork you’ll need to teach English in South Korea.]

I needed a passport so I could move to South Korea to teach ESL. If you’re thinking about doing the whole Korea thing, this is probably the second big process you need to start, right after beginning your FBI background check.

Even if you’re not looking to teach in South Korea, you’ll still need a passport for any other kind of international travel. And even if you don’t have any travel plans, you might just want one to feel a little like Jason Bourne. Whatever your reason, here’s how to do it.

  1. Fill out the form: If you’re getting a passport for the first time, or if you’re like me and got your first passport before you were 16 years old, you’ll fill out the DS-11 form. You can do that online or print it out and do it with a pen.
  2. Find out when and where you can submit your application: Most US post offices can do this, but some of them require you to make an appointment ahead of time or will only let you do a walk-in between certain hours. I didn’t know this – post office websites are lame. Make sure to call the specific branch you’re planning to use to confirm everything so you don’t waste time running all over the place.
  3. Get your birth certificate and make a photocopy of it: You’ll need to bring it your original to the post office, but once they look it over and compare it to your photocopy, you’ll just send the copy. They say specifically to use 8.5″ by 11″ paper for the copy.
  4. Bring some other, regular I. D.: I used my driver’s license, but you can use whatever you’d normally use as an I. D. You won’t send this in. You’ll just present it when you apply for the passport at the post office or wherever.
  5. Bring your payment: Right now, passport books are $110 plus an additional $25 service charge to the post office. (Note that passport cards cost less than passport books but won’t work if you’re traveling over seas – they’re mostly for Canada and Mexico.) I just wrote a check, payable to “Department of State,” for the $110 and then used a debit card to pay the post office the $25.
  6. Get passport pictures: You could probably rig this up yourself if you’re really cheap. I got a set done, though, for $8 at a local CVS/Pharmacy (call around) and then had them make copies of those originals for a couple cents each (I needed more photos for the rest of my visa application process for Korea). This shouldn’t take too long, less than 20 minutes. Don’t attach these pictures to your passport application.
  7. Visit the post office (at the right time) and apply for your passport: They might ask you some questions about the whole thing, like where you’re going and why and whether or not everything here is legit. Nothing to be scared of. When you filled out your passport application online or at home, you probably noticed it said not to sign it ahead of time. You’ll need to go sign it at the post office – make sure you don’t somehow skip this step. They’re professionals at the post office, but that means nothing. You’re responsible.

And that’s it. You might still want to double check everything on the State Department website and then by calling your post office since some of the process and requirements are bound to change.

When everything is finished, they’ll send your passport and then all your documents back to you. While you’re at the post office, you can ask how long it’ll all take. Mine took about five or six weeks. It’s not too long, but it’s long enough that you need to plan for it.

Happy traveling… or happy Bourning.

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