SmartLaw: Attorney and Lawyer Referral Service. Divorce, bankruptcy, criminal, accident, business
The Los Angeles County Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service, the largest and oldest such service in the United States, has hundreds of pre-screened, qualified and insured lawyers in the Los Angeles area who can help you with your legal issues. Contact us now and our courteous, professionally trained staff will help you connect you with the right lawyer. The LRIS is a nonprofit public service of LACBA.

#364 Passports

mp3 #364 How to Get a Passport in California (mp3 file)

This message will answer seven questions about passports: 

1-What is a passport? 

2-Why do you need a passport?

3-What is a visa?

4-When do you apply for a passport?

5-Where do you apply for a passport?

6-What do you need to get your passport?

7-For how long is your passport valid?

First, what is a passport? A passport is an internationally recognized travel document, which verifies who you are, and the country of which you are a citizen. A United States passport is published in the form of a small, blue, cardboard-covered booklet. It contains your picture, and information about you. It is usually 24 pages long, but if you are traveling to many countries requiring visas, it may be 48 pages long. Each person has his or her individual passport.

Why do you need a passport? If you are a citizen of the United States of America, and you plan to travel to another country, you will need a United States passport before you can depart from the United States, and before you can enter most foreign countries. Most countries require a passport before you can travel there as a tourist, or for business or student purposes.

It is best to check with the embassy or consulate office of each country you plan to visit, to learn about that country's specific requirements for admission, including any required immunizations. The reference department of your public library may be able to give you the address and telephone number of the nearest embassy or consulate office representing each country you plan to visit.

What is a visa? Some countries require you to obtain a visa, in addition to your passport, before you can enter these countries. A visa is an endorsement or stamp, placed in your passport by a foreign government, which permits you to visit that country for a specified purpose and for a limited time; for example, a three-month tourist visa. You should obtain necessary visas before you leave the United States. Apply directly to the embassies or nearest consulates of the country you plan to visit, or consult with a travel agent.

Because your visa is usually stamped directly onto one of the blank pages in your passport, you will need to fill out a form and give your passport to an official of each foreign embassy or consulate. You may need one or more photographs for each visa. Some visas are free, and some are not. This process may take several weeks for each visa, so start early.

When do you apply for a passport? It is best to apply for your passport as soon as possible, at least several months before you plan to leave the United States. If you will need visas to enter particular countries, then you will need additional time.

Your passport may be issued within a relatively short time if necessary. You may request special expeditious handling, if you have an early departure date. Your passport is usually mailed to you by first class mail, but for speedier service, you may request and pay an extra fee for special delivery, registered mail, express mail, UPS or federal express.

In urgent situations, where time does not permit you to receive your passport by mail, you may arrange for "will call" service, whereby you will personally pick up your passport at the nearest U.S. passport agency office. In real emergency situations, where there is not even enough time to mail your application, you or someone authorized by you, may hand-carry your completed passport application to the nearest U.S. Passport agency office, for processing within two working days. This procedure may not be used as a mere convenience to you, and is limited to emergency situations only. In Life or Death Emergencies, call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 and speak to a customer service representative. If a life-or-death emergency arises on weekends or after normal business hours, and you must leave the United States immediately, you may contact the passport office duty officer, at the department of state in Washington, D.C., the telephone number is area code 202-647-4000.

Where do you apply for a passport? There are two U.S. passport agencies in California, where your passport is actually issued. The two agencies are in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In San Francisco, the U.S. passport agency is in the federal building, 95 Hawthorne Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California 94105, automated appointment number, 1-877-487-2778. In the Los Angeles area, it is in the Federal Office Building, 11000 West Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000 West Los Angeles, California 90024, automated appointment number, 1-877-487-2778.

When you apply for a passport, there are other locations that may be more convenient to you. Certain large post offices, any federal court clerk's office, and some county clerk's offices will assist you and accept your passport application. Some county clerks' offices no longer accept passport applications. When you apply for a passport at designated post offices and these other locations, they mail your application to the nearest U.S. passport agency, which in turn mails your passport back to you.

What do you need to get your passport? If you are applying for your first passport, you must go in person to one of the various locations already described, and present the following items:

1-A completed passport application form

2-Two identical individual passport photos, which must be two inches by two inches in size, and photographed within the past six months. They must be full face photos, with a plain white background. A professional photographer is the best place to obtain passport photos which are acceptable for your passport. Passport photo requirements are very detailed and complicated.

3-Proof of citizenship: such as a certified copy of your birth certificate, your certificate of naturalization, or a previous passport.

4-Current identification, such as a driver's license with your picture on it.

5-A personal check, credit card, debit card or money order made payable to "US Department of State. In addition, the office accepting your application will also charge you a processing fee. If you have already received a passport in the past, you may be able to apply for a new passport by mail, instead of appearing in person.

6-Provide Social Security number.

You may apply by mail if:

1-You have already been issued a passport within the past fifteen years,

2-You are eligible to submit your most recent passport along with your new application,

3-Your previous passport was not issued before your 16th birthday,

4-You still have the same name as in the passport (or you can legally document name change) and,

5-You are not applying for an official, diplomatic, or no-fee passport.

If you qualify to mail in your passport application, you may mail all the required documents, photographs and the fee to the nearest U.S. passport agency office, either in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

For how long is your passport valid? A regular passport is valid for a period of ten years from the date it is issued, unless the passport is specifically limited to a shorter period of time. Your ten year passport may not be renewed. After your passport is ten years old, you must obtain a new passport in order to travel abroad. Children's passports are valid for only five years; a child is anyone under 16 years old.

Passport applications and related forms may be obtained free of charge from any of the locations already described, or online at

Back to Top