To travel internationally you'll need a passport for most countries and a visa for some. A passport is a government-issued identification document that registers your presence in a foreign country with national authorities. You must present your passport to gain entry clearance when returning to the United States after traveling abroad. Other countries, such as China, require a visa for entry. Visas grant permission to travel to a country and stay there for a specific time period. Apply for a visa with the embassy of the country you plan to visit.
Obtaining a Passport
Complete form DS-11 to apply for your first passport. Print the form from the U.S. State Department's website in the passport section. Do not sign the application until you present it to the accepting agency.
Find a passport agency online through the state department's zip code search. Many post offices and county clerk's offices accept passport applications.
Purchase identical two-inch photos at a passport photo shop to submit with your application.
Gather evidence of your identity and citizenship. The state department requires photo identification such as a driver's license as well as a birth certificate or naturalization papers.
Photocopy your identity documents. The originals and the copies will be requested when you submit your application.
Turn your application into the passport or acceptance agency. Also provide photos and identity documents.
Pay the passport and execution fees. Pay each fee separately with a personal check or money order or by credit card at some locations.
Obtaining a Visa
Find the embassy or consulate of the visa-issuing country. All foreign embassies to the United States are headquartered in Washington, D.C., but many embassies operate consular offices in other cities such Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Find this information at the state department's website.
Look up the requirements for visa applications on the embassy's website. Download the application and gather the necessary materials, which usually include photo identification, a consular fee, passport photos and specific information on where you are staying, how long you are staying and what you are doing in the country.
Submit the application.
Pick up the visa. If you live too far from a visa-issuing office, the visa will be mailed to you. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope in your application if you want it to be returned via mail.