By Meredith Franco Meyers in New York—Baby Cheapos grow up so fast. Before you know it, they’ve gone from diapers to economy seating and they’re flashing you a passport.
When this recently happened to me, I had to hop into action fast (especially since I had already booked a plane ticket for me and my mini shadow). So, in the spirit of “don’t do as I do…,” here are my top tips for the fateful day when your babe-in-arms finally requests passage across the Atlantic.
1. Photo shop.
Call ahead to make sure your local convenience store or photo place can take and print passport photos specifically. On the day I decided to stuff my offspring into an Ergo baby carrier and “photo shop” we were flubbed up by a CVS that didn’t have a working printer, a Rite Aid whose passport photographer had stepped out to lunch, and finally a specialty studio where you had to book an appointment ahead of time. Doh!
When you finally do get your little one in front of the camera, remember that passport photos become invalid if any part of the guardian’s body can be seen in the frame. That includes toys too. I had to hold my daughter by the thighs and hoist her overhead while she feigned her best Leonardo DiCaprio “king of the world”.
2. Know when to go and where to go.
This seems like a no-brainer, but for me it wasn’t. I assumed every passport office was open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Just like all the other government offices, right? Ha. But these days many passport offices—though typically housed in government buildings and post offices—run a more minimal schedule than their umbrella locations.
In some cases, you need to make an actual appointment. So, do your research beforehand and if possible, arrive just before the office opens for the day. If you can too, call ahead or go online and book an appointment to see someone via your local post office.
The easiest way to find out where you should go for baby’s first passport is by visiting the U.S. government’s web site on passports.
Cheapo note: I dread the lines that inevitably form at any type of government or bureaucratic establishment – especially during “rush” hours or at lunchtime. So, ideally try to arrive on “off” hours. That means early morning (if available) or late in the day.
3. Bring the other half, namely your child’s other parent.
If you cannot both be present when applying in person for your baby or minor’s passport, you will need to provide notarized proof as to why. A simple letter stating that one of you has a work commitment or is out of town will suffice. Just remember to get it notarized. Many convenience stores now offer, for a nominal fee, notarizing services.
4. Bring your forms all filled out, but don’t sign them.
Yes, you should certainly fill out the passport forms before you arrive (you can find and print them all online). If you have questions about what forms to fill out or how to do them, this page is very helpful. This is a good video tutorial, too. Just don’t sign the forms. You will have to be witnessed signing them when you are at the passport office or agency.
5. Bring exact cash, and/or a checkbook.
While many passport offices now take all manner of credit and debit cards, a few—namely those in US embassies and consulates, still prefer cash. Make sure you get a receipt that confirms when you applied and how much you paid. This will come in handy if your document doesn’t arrive within the 4-6 week window.
For expedited passports, there’s an additional fee that applies. Expedited minor passports typically arrive within 2 weeks time as opposed to the 4-6 week timeframe.
On that note, passports aren’t cheap to begin with ($80-$95 to begin, plus a $25 administrative fee) and this cost only escalates if you can’t wait out the typical timeframe. Expediting your minor’s passport could cost anywhere from $60 up to hundreds of dollars extra. For more on fees, go here.
Happy trails—and remember—though your pint-sized world traveler may disagree, there’s no crying in baseball or in the passport application process!