What's the Cheapest Way to Get a Passport in California?

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Answered by: Aubrie, An Expert in the Travel - How to Be a Budget Traveler Category
The first step to a life-changing international vacation is to get a passport. If this is your first rodeo, here’s how to make the passport application process as painless (and cheap!) as possible.

PLAN TO FILE AT LEAST TWO MONTHS IN ADVANCE.



Outside of rush periods, applicants can get a passport in the mail in about six to eight weeks.



If you’re procrastinating on a passport application, you are playing with fire, especially if you've already purchased airline tickets! Applications start flooding in around holidays, so plan accordingly to submit yours before the rush begins.

“Way in advance” is always better than “too little, too late.”

IGNORE THE PASSPORT AGENCIES!

Passport agencies have the power to expedite your materials and reduce the turnaround time drastically. The catch? They get to hike up their prices. Passport agencies are generally for jet-setters with cash to burn. Save yourself the runaround!

By planning in advance, you can procure a passport without ever needing to contact these guys. Know where to go ahead of time; search online for passport acceptance centers in your area, or call your local post office. Busier areas might require an appointment up to a month in advance, so contact them early!

TAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOS

No need to buy an expensive camera; your passport photos are so tiny and nondescript you could take them with a smartphone.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs requires:

- 1 color photo

- 2x2 inches in size (51x51 cm)

- Wearing normal human clothes (as opposed to a Halloween costume)

- Taken in front of a plain white (or off-white) background

- You should be facing the front, with a neutral expression – a natural smile is fine, but no joke photos!

If you’ve already taken your photo and aren’t sure if it meets these standards, the Bureau has an online photo tool to help you crop and chop it to perfection.

If you don’t have a photo printer (or a friend with one), many convenience stores will take and print your photo for as little as $10.

GET YOUR MATERIALS IN ORDER (RIGHT NOW.)

You’ll need a state driver’s license or photo ID, an application (print it online, or grab one at the post office), that special passport photo, and your birth certificate. Don’t have it? Many states let you order birth certificates online for $50 or less, even if you no longer live in that state.

Prone to losing things? Spare yourself the shame. Treat your materials like your favorite snack food; store it securely in a cool, dry place, where no one else will touch it!

You’ll also need money, of course; a government-mandated fee applies to all new passport applications. The silver lining? You won’t have to pay it again for nearly a decade!

Getting organized for your first passport can really motivate you for planning the rest of your upcoming vacation. Now that you’ve cleared the first step, it’s time to get excited for the adventure of a lifetime!

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