United States citizens need a U.S. passport to enjoy most international travel. Applying for a passport is generally simple. In many cases, it can be accomplished in a single trip to the post office. You'll need a completed passport application, passport photos and documents to prove your U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or oftentimes a certified copy of the birth certificate. Although you must send those documents in with your application, your birth certificate or other citizenship documentation will be returned when your passport is mailed. The requisite information that must appear on the passport is basic, and it is easy to find for most applicants. Provide all the requested information and fill out the form in black ink, or your application may be denied.

Establish Your Identity

The first section of the passport application involves your identity. Write down your name, date and place of birth, current address, Social Security Number, email address, a phone number, and additional names or aliases you have used.

For those hoping solely to do a name change on their passport, fees may or may not be required and various forms including a form DS-11 or form DS-82 may be required depending on the time since issuance and other factors.

Supply Parental Information

Provide information about your parents, including first and last names of each parent, along with your mother's maiden name. Include information about their genders and whether they are U.S. citizens. You'll also need the dates and places of their births.

Give Details About Your Current or Former Spouse

Have you ever been married? If so, it’s necessary to provide information about your spouse on your passport application. If you’re not currently married but have been in the past, you'll need to supply information about your most recent spouse. Provide their full name, date of birth, place of birth, whether they are a U.S. citizen, the date of the marriage, whether you’ve ever been divorced or widowed, and the date you became divorced or widowed. Gathering this passport information before you go to the post office can save a pesky second trip, because it’s all necessary to successfully complete the form.

Include Additional Information

The passport application also has a section for personal data, including height, hair color, eye color, employer, emergency contact and, if applicable, your name as listed on a previous passport.

Sign Your Name Clearly in the Signature Section

Don't sign your passport application until you are ready to turn it in. The application must be signed in the presence of someone authorized to receive it. In most cases, your post office provides this service. You may also do this at U.S. embassies, consulates and passport offices that specifically deal with this task.

Foreign Passports

Given that each nation sets its own rules, the required information may vary from country to country. In some nations, the rules for getting a passport may be more stringent. Citizens may, for example, be expected to provide a reference, take a loyalty oath or certify that they have completed required military service. In others, the rules may be somewhat more relaxed. In most instances, however, you will at the very least need proof of your identity and citizenship. Each nation's foreign ministry, passport agency, or state department can provide the specific passport requirements.

Time Frame and Cost

According to the U.S. Department of State website (travel.state.gov), passport processing times after the application process is completed vary, but for an extra fee, you can expedite service.

Depending on the country, passport services can vary in cost, in the U.S. a new passport often costs more than a passport renewal, with expedited service adding additional fees. A child’s passport fees for minors under the age of 16, are also less costly than an adult passport book or passport card. Payment methods allowed vary by location, those hoping to pay with debit or credit card will likely have to do so and submit application forms at a passport agency. For those applying at a passport acceptance facility, a money order or check will be required. More information and faqs about fees can be found on the Department of State website.

When planning to get a passport remember the extra fees that may be accrued if using photo services or getting new copies of documents including a naturalization certificate, driver’s license, or other copy of photo ID.