Passports can take up to six weeks or more from the time you apply for it to receive it. With the new passport laws that went into effect at the beginning of 2007, thousands more U.S. travelers are applying for passports these days, so the wait may be even longer--up to even 10 weeks.
You now need a passport if you are traveling by air between the United States and Mexico, Canada, South America and the Caribbean. Starting in January 2008, it is anticipated you will need a passport if you are traveling between the United States and those countries if you are traveling by land or by sea (cruises).
U.S. Citizens do not need a passport if you are traveling from the United States to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Applying for a passport is relatively easy. Visit one of 8,000 acceptance facilities in the United States. Many post offices are acceptance facilities. Visit www.travel.state.gov to enter your zip code and find the facility nearest you.
Also visit the above website to download the DS-11 form you'll need to fill out and bring along. You will also need to bring proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate with a raise seal; proof of identity, such as a driver's license; and two 2x2 passport photos, preferably taken at a photo shop (or UPS store) so they adhere to the guidelines (i.e. identical, color, taken in front of light background).
If you need your passport quickly, tell the acceptance facility you need to "expedite" the service. You will pay an additional $60 fee. In the past, expediting the passport would mean you'd receive it in 2 weeks. But because of the flood of passport applications lately, it's taking 3 or 4 weeks.
If you need your passport within 10 business days, consider the services offered by Passport Express (see link below). This is not a government agency, but the company works closely with the government to secure passports and visas fast.
This service will cost you a hefty fee, however: to receive a passport within 1-10 business days, you'll pay $249 PLUS regular passport fees ($90 and up).