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Do Kids Need Passports?

If you are a relatively new traveler trying to find information about a passport card or passport book and how to get a child’s passport, you may be wondering if kids need passports. While there are some instances where kids do not need passports (like traveling domestically including Puerto Rico), the basic rule of thumb is that if you need a passport, you need a child passport for your son or daughter. You will also likely need a visa for your child if you are traveling somewhere where visas are required. Another thing to look at potentially getting is a child travel consent form, if you’re planning on traveling without both of the child’s parent. In this article we’ll take a look at who needs a passport, how to make a passport application and other passport issuance questions. Keep in mind that many borders are closed or have other restrictions due to COVID, so double check all of this information with a government source before setting out.

Who needs a passport?

If you are a United States citizen, then everyone leaving the country by air (or returning to the US) needs a passport, even a newborn infant. It used to be that you did not need a passport to travel to Canada or Mexico by land or sea, but now everyone 16 or older must present a passport (in most cases) for all travel between Canada and Mexico and the US. Children 15 years or younger can cross into Canada or Mexico by land or sea with just their birth certificate. If you are flying between the US and either Canada or Mexico then even children and infants need their own passport.

How to get a passport for your children

There are a couple of additional rules on how to get a passport for someone younger than 16. You cannot apply for a new passport or passport renewal for a child by mail – instead, the child needs to apply in-person at a passport agency or passport acceptance facility (like the post office) with both of their parents in most cases. If you have sole custody of your child, then you will need to bring proof like a court order that you are the legal guardian with sole custody. If one parent cannot attend, then they need to fill out Form DS 3053 “Statement of Consent.” and have it notarized and brought by the applying parent. You will need to provide copies of proof of US citizenship like an existing passport or birth certificate. Another thing to keep in mind is that passports for children under 16 are only good for 5 years instead of 10.

Forms and evidence needed to apply for a passport for your child

Applying for a passport for your child requires a lot of forms and paperwork. Thankfully the State Department website is pretty thorough on what the passport requirements that you need to bring for a child passport application:

  • Fill out application form DS-11
  • Provide US Citizenship evidence (along with a photocopy to send in)
  • Show parental relationship
  • Both parents need to show ID and proof of parental relationship (and have a photocopy available to send in)
  • Bring passport photos

More on passport photos – you can get those taken at places like CVS or Walgreens but they cost between $15 and $20 depending on where you go. We downloaded an app called IDPassportPhoto and took our own passport photos. We had a bit of trouble trying to print out just one passport photo due to their size (they have to be 2×2). So what we did was just put 4 of the passport photos together and printed it as a 5×7, which worked great (total 35 cents).

What happens at a passport appointment for children under sixteen

We recently got my 13 year old’s passport renewed. I took a look at the various passport acceptance agent facilities and decided on the passport office that was located in our local BMV. My wife, son and I drove down one afternoon and thankfully there was no line whatsoever. There were about 5 BMV employees sitting around doing literally nothing :-). We had all of our information, including my child’s birth certificate and expired passport. We had copies of each document that we needed and our passport photos. The whole process took about 15 minutes. We decided that we did not need expedited passport service, so we just paid for the regular processing time. The BMV did not take credit card payments, but thankfully we had brought our checkbook for the passport fee.


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