Top 5 Reasons Your Passport Application Might Get Denied

worried man with glasses wear beige coat and inscription "Top % Reasons Your Passport Application Might Get Denied"

International travel abroad requires everyone to provide a travel document. Unless you’re some kind of secret agent, this document is going to be your passport. Passports are easy enough to get: you fill out the application, collect your supporting documents and photocopies, and submit all the paperwork to the passport agency along with the appropriate fees. And then you wait.

The current processing time for a new US passport is two to three months—that’s both to get a brand-new passport, and/or simply to renew an existing passport. But if you make a mistake in your paperwork, things can be slowed down by an additional 90 days—maybe even longer. Keep reading to discover the most common mistakes, how to avoid them, and how to recover if you do make an error.

Top 5 passport denial reasons 

If you’re thinking about beginning an overseas vacation four or five months from now and you still don’t have a passport, you’d better get that application submitted ASAP. You should even consider paying the extra $60 for expedited service, which will mean getting your new passport in only five to seven weeks instead of the usual eight to eleven weeks. You might need this extra time, just in case your passport application is delayed.

And now, here now are the Top Five Passport Denial Reasons, beginning with the most common mistake:

1. The problem: is your photograph acceptable?

A passport photograph is not just any old photograph; it is a biometric photo, clearly showing the details of your face. It must meet the official U.S. passport photo specifications, which means it must be a certain size and shape and format. It must be properly illuminated and exposed with good color and contrast, and properly printed on high-quality photo paper without streaks, smears or blobs.

Needless to say, if your eyes are closed or if your face is covered in any way—such as if you are wearing a hat or eyeglasses—then your photograph will be deemed unacceptable.

The solution:

Get professional help! Use the passport photo services available in drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, office supply stores like FedEx Office and Staples, retailers such as Walmart and Target, and many if not most US post offices.

Or you can use an online photo editor such as PhotoAiD to have your picture edited to the American passport photo standards. PhotoAiD is fast, easy and affordable, and we’ll get into more detail further down in this article. But now, keep reading and we’ll move on to the second most common mistake!

2. Is your information complete?

You must provide proof of your identity, usually in the form of a government-issued photo ID which can be your driver’s license, state ID card, or military ID. And you have to provide proof of citizenship, which is either going to be your birth certificate (for native-born citizens) or your naturalization certificate (for naturalized citizens). If you have changed your name, you will also be required to provide evidence of the name change, plus relevant supporting documents such as a divorce decree, marriage certificate or death certificate.

When documentation is missing, your application is put on HOLD and you’ll have 90 (ninety) days to provide the missing information. If anything is left blank on your application, the application will not be accepted by the passport agency or the State Department.

The solution:

Complete application Form DS-11 completely and thoroughly, and double-check your work. If you do not have one of the required forms of identification, contact the U.S. Department of State and they will provide a list of acceptable alternative forms of identification you can use. If you no longer have your original birth certificate, get an “original certified copy” by contacting the secretary of state of the state you were born in. Getting all this information right the first time will save you time and trouble.

3. Are your photocopies good?

You have to submit good, high-quality photocopies of all your supporting documents, such as your naturalization certificate, driver’s license and name change decree. Your passport acceptance office (post office or county clerk’s office, for example) will inspect the originals and give them back to you, but the photocopies are theirs to keep. The copies get forwarded to the Department of State with the rest of your application. (NOTE: if you are renewing an existing passport, you must provide a color photocopy of the old or expired passport, but the current passport itself will also be sent to the State Department for canceling. It will be given back to you when you get your new passport.)

Please show up at the passport acceptance office with your photocopies already made. Do not plan on making copies in the post office—this will only lead to grief. And if your birth certificate says “DO NOT COPY,” just ignore it: you’re allowed to photocopy your own birth certificate, especially for federal passport purposes.

Common mistakes to avoid when making copies

Photocopies cannot be double-sided. Changing the size of the image is not permitted. They must be copied onto standard 8 1/2 x 11-inch white paper. You cannot use scissors, tape, staples or glue in any way. The copies must be readable and clear, without streaks, smudges or damage from the copy machine. Do not crease, spindle or mutilate.

4. Is your payment correct?

Don’t forget to pay “The Man!” The fee for either a brand-new passport or for a renewal is $130 bucks. This fee has to be paid in the form of a check: a personal check, a cashier’s check, or a money order. Do the math: your check must be for exactly the right amount. If you need expedited service, that’ll cost you another $60, so your check should be for $190. If you need rush delivery, that’s another $18.32, making the full amount $208.32 exactly. If you get the amount wrong, the Department of State will not cash the check—your application will be put on HOLD until you correct the mistake, which eats up valuable time.

Checks must be made out to the “U.S. Department of State.” Use those exact words. Do not make the mistake of writing “U.S. State Department.” Do not abbreviate it as “Dept. of State,” either. Be precise.

The passport acceptance office then mails your completed application, along with your check for the exact amount, to the US Department of State. The passport acceptance office charges an additional $35 execution fee, by the way, which is paid separately. The acceptance office probably accepts cash, credit cards and debit cards in addition to checks. And don’t forget you also need to pay the postage for mailing the application.

Finally, your passport application could be turned down for a few legal reasons: if you owe child support or if you’ve missed payments on a loan from the US Department of State, to cite the two most common legal reasons. Note that the Department of State doesn’t care about private debts (such as defaulting on a mortgage) or state-level debts (like needing to repay overpayments from unemployment compensation). You can still get a passport even if you’re bankrupt.

But if you are currently convicted or in jail, or wanted on an arrest warrant, or if you have a court order that prohibits you from traveling, your application will be denied. If you’ve been convicted for certain specific drug-related felonies, you will be denied. Sorry, bud. And if you are on parole or probation, you should first consult with your parole or probation officer before you even apply for that passport.

PhotoAiD solves the picture problem

Eliminate the most common problem with passport applications by using PhotoAiD to get perfect passport pictures. Snap passport photos yourself at home, comfortably and privately. Save 50% to 97% of the price at drug stores! Save time, too.

The procedure is quick and simple: you upload your photo into the PhotoAiD tool, and it automatically verifies if the image meets official U.S. passport photo specifications. Submit as many pictures as needed to get the perfect one. The app automatically adjusts the size and position, and does everything else needed to make a compliant photograph.

PhotoAiD converts the image into a JPEG file, which is emailed to you within a few seconds. You download a ready-to-print digital photo, which can be printed for 39 cents (or less) at your local pharmacy or copy shop. If you don’t feel like leaving the house, PhotoAiD can print the pictures for you and mail them to your home within a few days.

Plus, PhotoAiD gives you a 200% guarantee of acceptance: if your passport photograph is not accepted by the authorities for any reason, PhotoAiD will refund you double your money back!

Passport denials: in conclusion

These 5 reasons are not the only things that can cause your passport application to be denied or delayed, but they are the most common. Hopefully, now that you know these reasons you will be less likely to make these same mistakes. It’s critical that you meet all the specified standards, especially when capturing the photograph for your U.S. passport. Use a reliable online photo app such as PhotoAiD, and you can be confident that your passport photos will be accepted by the authorities.

Passport denial reasons: FAQs

What happens if my passport application is rejected?

You’ll get a letter from the U.S. Department of State explaining why your application was rejected, and what you need to do to fix the problem.

Do I have to pay twice if my passport application is rejected once?

Maybe! You will have a deadline of 90 (ninety) days to fix the problem without needing to pay again. If you miss the deadline, your application is canceled completely without getting a refund. If you elect to re-apply later on, you will need to submit an all-new payment.

Can I re-apply if my application gets rejected?

If it’s something you can change (like replacing your photograph or supplying additional information and documentation, or paying off your child support), then yes—you have 90 (ninety) days to make the changes. If it’s something that cannot be changed within 90 (ninety) days (like legal judgments), you can’t apply again until the underlying issue is resolved.

What happens if your passport photo is rejected?

The State Department will notify you in writing that you have a 90-day deadline to submit an acceptable photo.

Why does my passport photo keep getting rejected?

If a photo does not meet very strict standards, it will be rejected. For best results, try using PhotoAiD.

Is there a passport denial list?

There is a Passport Denial Program, and it’s run by the Child Support Services Division (CSSD), part of the Federal Collections and Enforcement Program. If you owe $2,500 or more in child support, you get put on this list.

How will I know if I’m on the passport denial list?

The CSSD lets you know they are putting you on the passport denial list by sending you a letter in the mail. The letter explains how much you owe, and you get off the list by paying off the full amount—you cannot just pay it down to under $2,500. You can contact the CSSD Customer Service Unit by calling (202) 442-9900.

Why would someone be denied a passport?

The most common reason is owing over $2,500 in child support; this gets you on the CSSD denial list. If you have an overdue or unpaid federal loan. If you have a court order prohibiting you from travel. If you are on bond or bail awaiting trial. If you have been convicted of certain felonies related to the international trafficking of drugs, you will be denied a passport.