A bird is not free if it is kept locked up in a cage. Likewise, one does not have complete freedom without the freedom or “right” to travel. Most Americans don’t realize it, but they have to literally buy their freedom in many ways. Obtaining a passport in order to “rightfully” or freely exit the United States is one such example.
This assumes, in the first place, that you even “qualify” to exercise this freedom. If you pay child support, owe taxes to the IRS, or have been charged with a felony, you might have to get creative, because not everyone is eligible for a U.S. passport and all of the rights it confers.
Recently, I successfully applied for and obtained my U.S. passport, as a native citizen. It was very simple; in fact, it was more simple than obtaining a driver license. No driving test was required, no studying was required, and no eye exams were required. I simply had to fill out two pages of paperwork, which took me no more than 15 minutes. As I was applying for the first time, I simply had to fill out the DS-11 form, which can be found online.
It may appear that you can apply online, but all you can do is pre-apply. To actually apply, all filled-out documents done online must be taken to what’s called a “passport acceptance” location for official submission. On the website, you will want to enter your zip code to find what locations near you are officially recognized for this purpose. Post offices fulfill this service and so do court houses. In my case, the court house was easiest, since they accepted walk-ins rather than requiring appointment scheduling in advance.
Having a passport-acceptable photo with you at the time of application submission is very important. If you’re lucky, the place you’re applying at might also take the photo for you then and there, but this will not necessarily be the case. Unless you know for sure that the place you’ve chosen does so, you should make a trip to your local Walgreens or Walmart to obtain a print copy of a passport-qualified photo. This essentially means that the dimensions are sized to fit the passport documents and that it meets other photographic standards. A digital copy is not accepted.
The other required documents are standard for most Americans. You’ll need a birth certificate (or acceptable birth record), a social security card and two forms of ID.
In my case, there was an unexpected additional cost. The court charged their own fee of $50 to submit the application, on top of the actual application fees. I also didn’t expect that the original photo I took and printed myself would be denied, causing me to pay $15 to Walgreens for a professional, passport-acceptable print photo.
The passport book is currently $110, and the card is $30. In my opinion, it makes no sense to have one without the other, so both are imperative. None of these fees are paid online. They are paid in person wherever you happen to apply.
The processing time may take up to 8 weeks maximum, but in my case, it took just 3 weeks. They have paid options for expediting the application, but even without having paid for one of these, mine was delivered to me in an expedited time frame.
I certainly don’t embrace the idea of having a mere card that grants travel rights. But I do recognize that it is one of the key tools I need to navigate this world and slowly gain more freedom. Let this investment be recognized as one of your best investments towards freedom.