It's hard to travel the world, or even the continent, without a passport. In order to get a United States passport, you must fill out an application, get a photo to strict standards and also present documentary evidence proving identity and citizenship. A former passport proves both identity and citizenship, but what if this is your first passport?

Primary Identification for a Passport

Given that a passport becomes proof of your identity while you're traveling abroad, it's not surprising that you have to provide proof of your identity to get it. Any applicant who is 18 or over has to establish identity, and anyone under 18 must be identified by a parent or guardian who provides documentary proof of her own identity.

Generally, if you present one government-issued photo identity document when you submit Form DS-11, that is sufficient. Perhaps the most popular document to use for this is a driver's license. The license must be current, fully valid, not temporary or a learner’s permit and issued by the state where you are applying for the passport.

Any of these also constitute primary identification if the photo is recognizable, according to the State Department:

  • Undamaged U.S. passport book or passport card, valid or expired
  • Certificate of naturalization
  • Certificate of citizenship
  • Government employee ID issued by a city, county, state, or the federal government
  • U.S. military or military dependent ID
  • Current valid foreign passport
  • Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular ID) - commonly used by a parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant
  • Permanent resident card (Green Card) - commonly used by a parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant

If you have one of these documents, it's all you need to prove your identity. Bring the original and one photocopy with you to the passport acceptance facility when you submit your passport application.

Alternatives to Primary Identification

Not everyone holds one of these documents. If you don't, you aren't alone. In fact, so many people don't have a primary identification that the State Department sets out on its website and on the DS-11 application a list of secondary identification types. You can use any of these, but you'll have to submit at least two when you apply.

  • In-state, fully valid non-driver ID
  • Out-of-state driver's license
  • Out-of-state non-driver ID
  • Social Security card
  • Learner's or temporary driver's permit
  • Voter registration card
  • Employee ID
  • Student ID
  • Selective Service (draft) card
  • Medicare or other health card
  • Expired driver's license 
  • Form DS-71, for an Identifying Witness 

If you want to use a DS-71 form, to be signed by a witness, have the witness go to the passport acceptance facility with you. The person will have to swear that he knows you and sign the form, provided by the facility, under penalty of perjury before a facility agent.