A passport is a powerful thing. It's proof of your identity and status as a citizen – and having a valid one means you can jet off for a spontaneous trip to Europe, which is the stuff of daydreams that make boring days at work bearable. Because a passport proves that you are who you say you are, it's necessary to prove those things to a passport acceptance agent before your application is approved. That's why applying for a passport requires you to show a few types of government-issued ID.

First-Time Applicants, 16 or Older

Anyone who is applying for his or her first passport is required to fill out form DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport. This form and the supporting documents must be presented in person at a passport acceptance facility; it's not possible to apply by mail. In addition to a completed application form, passport photos and the application fee, all applicants must provide proof of identity and citizenship.

To prove identity, a passport agent will accept your valid U.S. driver's license, a government employee ID, U.S. military ID, Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, a valid foreign passport or a Matricula Consular card. (If your driver's license is from a different state from the one in which you reside, bring a second ID that includes your photo, full name, date of birth and the date that the ID was issued.) Bring both the original document and a photocopy of both the front and back of it to the acceptance facility. The copy will remain with your application.

To prove citizenship, bring the original version or a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship. Bring a photocopy or second certified copy of your citizenship document.

Renewal Applications, 16 or Older

Once a passport holder who is 16 or older has proven citizenship and identity to get a first passport, it's generally not necessary to prove them again for a renewal. Renewal candidates can usually apply for a new passport by mail. All you have to do is include your expired or nearly expired passport along with form DS-82, U.S. Passport Renewal Application for Eligible Individuals – if you meet certain criteria. The passport must have been issued in the previous 15 years and must be undamaged. If your name has changed, you must be able to submit a certified copy of the legal name change document, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

Anyone who doesn't meet those criteria must apply using form DS-11 and provide the citizenship and identity documents that it requires.

Applicants Under 16  

Whether a child is applying for the first time or for a passport renewal, minors who are 15 or younger must always appear in person to apply for a passport, together with their parents or legal guardians. In addition to form DS-11, the passport acceptance agent must see proof of the child's citizenship status. That proof can come in the form of an expired passport, the original version or a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship. Bring a photocopy of the citizenship document too.

The child doesn't have to prove identity, but her parents or guardians do. All the ID documents that adults can use to apply for a passport are acceptable in this situation too, along with a photocopy of the front and back of the ID.

A child who is 15 or younger must have proof of consent by her parents or guardians to apply for a passport. How you'll prove this depends on your family circumstances. A child with two custodial parents should go to the passport acceptance facility with both parents and their IDs. If only one parent or guardian can go to the facility, the other must fill out form DS-3053, Statement of Consent, and have it notarized. A parent or guardian with sole custody must present evidence of that role, like a court-issued custody order or a copy of the second parent's death certificate.