15 Surprising Reasons the Government Might Not Give You a Passport

If you plan to travel internationally — or even just domestically if you live in a few states — you’ll need a passport. Usually, all that stands between you and this all-important travel document is a stack of paperwork (and at least a few weeks of waiting). The government’s passport rules seem pretty straightforward. But there are some surprising reasons why the government might delay your passport application, or even reject it.

Read on to discover the top reasons why your passport application could get delayed or denied altogether.

15. Your photocopies are too messy

A young Asian girl working on copying machine

Make sure your photocopier hasn’t run out of ink. | iStock.com/RealDealPhoto

Condé Nast Traveler reports that surprisingly enough, your passport application can get delayed or even denied thanks to messy photocopies. “Make sure the photocopies of your documents used to apply are on white, 8 1/2 x 11-inch standard paper and not double-sided,” the publication advises. “Shrinking the image size — say, a photocopy of your expired passport — is a no-go, but enlarging is acceptable.” Photocopies also have to look clear and remain legible. And they shouldn’t have anything else written on the pages.

Next: You don’t want to make this mistake, either. 

14. You didn’t fill out the form correctly

stressed woman sits with her bills on the table

You have to fill out the forms correctly. | JackF/iStock/Getty Images

Condé Nast Traveler reports that even honest mistakes like leaving important information off of your passport application can “lead to hiccups or even flat-out denials in the application process.” For that reason, a passport application isn’t something you should fill out at the last minute, when you’re rushing, or when you’ve misplaced your reading glasses. Take your time to fill out the forms, gather the required documentation, and double-check everything before you submit it.

Next: Choose your pen carefully. 

13. You used the wrong color of ink

man signing cheque

Don’t use the wrong pen when you fill out your paperwork. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

When you fill out your passport application, there’s another detail you’ll need to watch. Double-check what color ink is in your pen. U.S. Passport Service Guide reports that you need to use black ink (and your most legible handwriting) to fill out the forms. Some people even say that your application can get returned if you sign your name in the wrong color ink.

Next: This aspect of your application has to be just right, too. 

12. You submitted the wrong photo

A Fujifilm employee poses with the company's new X-Pro2 premium mirrorless digital camera

You might think twice about doing this yourself. | TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/Getty Images

Everybody wants to look good in their passport photo. But you should prioritize complying with all of the government’s rules. U.S. News reports that submitting a rule-breaking photo is the top reason that people’s passport applications get delayed. Lighting is often the primary issue, as you can’t have any shadows on your face. The photo also has to have a plain white or off-white background. And even the wrong camera settings can make your portrait look digitally altered and cause delays. Your best bet? You should probably go to the drugstore to have a pro take your photo.

Next: Don’t wear just anything when you take your photo. 

11. You wore the wrong outfit for your photo

Smiling beautiful brunette looking at camera

You can’t wear glasses in your photo. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Another easy way to get your passport application delayed? Wearing the wrong thing when you pose for your passport photo. The State Department’s website specifies that your passport photo has to be taken “in clothing normally worn on a daily basis.” But you’re out of luck if you typically wear a uniform. The State Department specifies that “You cannot wear a uniform, clothing that looks like a uniform, or camouflage attire” in your passport photo. You also can’t wear glasses in the photo. You can’t wear a hat or a head covering, either, and you can’t wear headphones or any other “wireless hands-free devices.”

Next: Double-check your paperwork. 

10. You didn’t provide sufficient proof of citizenship

Job interview

You have to prove your citizenship as well as your identity. | Robert Daly/iStock/Getty Images

U.S. News reports that giving insufficient documentation of citizenship could also delay your passport application. “Higher scrutiny, coupled with a greater volume of passports being issued, makes it essential for applicants to submit the proper documents,” the publication explains. In addition to proving your identity, you also have to demonstrate your citizenship. Invalid evidence — like a photocopied birth certificate instead of the original — could delay your application. And if you were born outside of the United States, you’ll need additional documents.

Next: Try to keep things neat. 

9. Your signature is sloppy

hand singing a paper

Keep your handwriting neat when you fill out the paperwork. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

All of the details matter when you fill out the paperwork to apply for a passport. That includes your signature. U.S. News reports that if the government notices a disparity in your signature on a standard DS-11 or DS-82 form, it may decline your application. Sign carefully — and make sure that you sign everywhere you’re supposed to. As U.S. News advises, “Before you submit, make sure you’ve signed all required documentation correctly and sufficiently.”

Next: Proceed carefully when you help a child apply for a passport. 

8. Your family situation is complicated

beautiful little girl holding passport and boarding pass

Make sure you follow all the rules when you help a minor apply. | iStock.com/michaeljung

If you’re helping a child under the age of 16 apply for a passport, you’re going to have to get the whole family involved. U.S. News reports that consent issues often cause delayed applications. Both of the child’s parents have to show their relationship as a parent or legal guardian, and they also have to appear in person to give their consent for the passport application. In the case of divorced parents or those with custody agreements, you’ll want to allow extra time to complete all the required paperwork.

Next: Make sure your math is correct. 

7. You didn’t pay the right amount

Accountant

Make sure you double-check your addition. | Dutko/Getty Images

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a mixup when it comes time to pay your passport fee can end up delaying your application. “Providing the correct payment for the type of passport book (and card) you want is essential for expediting your application,” U.S. News explains. Condé Nast Traveler reports that if you pay by check or money order, you need to make sure it’s made out to the Department of State. And you need to make sure that you pay the correct amount, including the application fee, the processing fees, and the fees for the book and card you choose. Plus, expediting a passport will cost even more.

Next: Expect problems if this applies to you. 

6. You’re behind on child support

Hundred dollar bills money

You’ll have to pay what you owe if you want your application to go through. | SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images

The passport fee isn’t the only way that money can stand between you and a passport. U.S. News reports that if you owe child support of $2,500 or more, the government may not give you a passport. “If an applicant owes this amount of child support, there will be a block in the State Department’s system, and the applicant would have to go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to get it removed,” the publication reports. It can take up to two to three weeks after you settle the payment — or make arrangements to make the payments — for the block to go away.

Next: This kind of debt can also get you in trouble. 

5. You owe back taxes

calculate bills

Taxes can get your application rejected, too. | Wutwhanfoto/iStock/Getty Images

Another way your financial obligations can prevent you from getting a passport? Anyone with delinquent tax debt will be denied a passport, as U.S. News reports. State Department officials say that the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act bans the department from issuing a passport to anyone whom the IRS has identified as having seriously delinquent tax debt. The department can even revoke passports it previously gave to such people.

Next: This might get your application denied. 

4. You’re in legal trouble

Some crimes will interfere with your travel plans. | YakobchukOlena/iStock/Getty Images

Have you had a run-in with law enforcement? Then you may want to think twice about trying to travel internationally. Condé Nast Traveler reports that it can also prove difficult to get a passport if you’re in trouble with the law. Convicted felons have to check with their parole officers before they file any paperwork to find out whether they can apply for a passport or not. USA Today notes that not all felons are barred from applying for and receiving a passport, but certain drug charges can keep you from having your application approved.

Next: This kind of debt can stand between you and a passport. 

3. You have an unpaid federal loan

Social Security Card

Some kinds of debt can also keep you from getting a passport. | Popartic/iStock/Getty Images

Another surprising factor that can keep you from getting a passport is an unpaid federal loan. USA Today reports that if you become incarcerated while traveling abroad and take a loan from the U.S. government to be repatriated back into the country, you have to repay that loan before you can get a passport. Or, if the government makes a loan to get you and your family back to the U.S. in the case of an evacuation, you have to pay the loan back before you can get approved for a passport.

Next: You may get denied if you did this in the past. 

2. You were less than honest with a previous passport

Hand holding U.S. passport

If you committed fraud, the government could reject your application. | Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images

This probably doesn’t apply to very many people, but Condé Nast Traveler reports that the government will deny your passport application if it finds that you’ve previously obtained a passport through “fraudulent” means. The Department of State can also reject your application if it finds that you’ve altered your passport in ways that are considered unacceptable by the government.

Next: The government can also deny your application for this reason. 

1. You appear to be a threat to national security or U.S. policy

Businessman giving U.S. passport at the airport

This can stand between you and a passport. | iStock.com/Kritchanut

Finally, USA Today reports that if the government deems you a threat to national security or U.S. policy, it might deny your application. (Then, you’ll definitely need to consult an expert for advice.) You will also be denied a passport if you’ve been ruled legally incompetent. And you can’t get a passport if you’re subject to felony arrest or have been forbidden from leaving the country by court order, parole, or probation. If you’re not sure, you’ll definitely want to talk with a professional to go over your options.

Read more: 5 Unique Destinations That Don’t Require a Passport

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