If you want to travel outside of the US, you will need either a valid US passport or a US passport card. If you are traveling within North America and are not traveling by air, you can use the new US passport card, which is simpler and less expensive to apply for. However, if you are traveling aboard, you will require a US passport.
Passports do several things. First, they allow you to enter other countries. Most countries will not permit you to enter their borders unless you can show a valid passport proving your citizenship. As well, you will need a valid passport to return to the US. Your passport authorizes you to travel and proves your identity. When you are abroad, you may need your passport to get help and services from a consulate or embassy. In some instances, a passport can be used as ID or proof of citizenship, even when you are not traveling.
If you want to apply for a passport card and currently have a valid traditional passport, you can simply download and file Form DS-82. Your new US passport card will arrive by mail. If you do not have a valid passport, you will need to apply for your new passport card with the government in person and you will need to file Form DS-11.
If you want to apply for a new passport and do not currently have a passport:
1) Get your passport application form. You can get an application for a new US passport at most US post offices, some US immigration agencies, and online. Make sure you have the most current application form.
2) Fill out the new passport application form, carefully following directions. Note that if you have downloaded your US immigration forms, the government advises that “The forms…must be printed in black print on white paper. The paper must be 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, with no holes or perforations, at least…20 lb…weight, and with a matte surface. Thermal paper, dye-sublimation paper, special inkjet paper, and other shiny papers are not acceptable.”
3) Submit proof of citizenship. In addition to submitting your passport application, you will need to submit proof of citizenship and well as proof of identity. Your new passport application instructions will have details about these requirements.
4) Get your new passport photos taken. There are many regulations regarding US passport photos. Many post offices take passport photos for a very small fee and know the regulations very well, so this is often a good idea if you need some new passport photos.
5) Pay your passport application fee. This fee will be listed on the forms as well as in the passport application instructions.
6) Visit your passport office. Bring all the assembled material and application forms for your new US passport. In many cases, you can get your new US passport in two weeks or two months. You can also ask to have your new passport rush delivered to you for an extra fee – you can ask about this option at your local passport office.