Damaged Your Passport? Here’s What to Do

First step—don’t panic. Here’s everything you need to know about replacing a bum passport.

The visa pages of a passport full of stamps

Try to keep your passport pristine—as soon as a passport is physically altered, it’s considered invalid.

Courtesy of ConvertKit/Unsplash

A run-in with a teething puppy. An accidentally torn cover. An ill-fated meeting with a glass of wine. There are many ways in which a passport can become damaged. And it always seems to happen right before a flight, huh? Unfortunately, even a small amount of damage can render your passport unusable or unable to be processed by the country you’re seeking to enter, and you can subsequently be denied entry. Here’s everything you need to know about damaged passports and how to replace them—before you get to the airport.

When is a passport considered damaged?

According to the U.S. Department of State, normal “wear and tear” of a passport—things like the passport book having a gentle fold in its spine from being in your pocket or the visa pages of the book fanning out from being opened and closed many times—should not hinder your travels.

The following are considered forms of unacceptable passport damage:

  • Any significant tear or perforations to either the visa pages or the cover.
  • Water damage. Significantly curling edges caused by humidity are also a no-go.
  • Any unofficial markings or stickers on any pages. Don’t let the kiddos use your passport as an impromptu coloring book. Additionally, do not put any fun tourist “passport stamps” in your official government-issued passport.
  • A loose or missing passport cover or binding.
  • Any damage to the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip.

Do not try to fix or repair a damaged passport yourself—once the passport has been physically altered, it is considered invalid as per federal law.

A pair of sunglasses, straight pins, a brochure about Los Angeles, and a passport arranged on a map of the world.

If you damage your passport abroad, you’ll be able to replace it at the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.

Courtesy of GeoJango Maps/Unsplash

How to replace a damaged passport

If you are still in the United States, the process to replace a damaged passport is very similar to the one you’d follow if you needed a completely new one. However, to replace a damaged passport, you’ll need to apply for a fresh book in person. Head over to your nearest passport processing facility (which can range from a post office to a public library to city hall) and fill out an application for a passport, a Form DS-11. Follow all the usual rules: That is, arrive with a copy of your government ID and a passport photo that’s less than six months old and be sure to have some cash or a check on hand as well—passports are currently $130 for adults and there’s also an additional $35 processing fee as well. (The government does not currently accept credit or debit cards to pay for passport fees.) If you’re in a rush, expedited passport services cost $60 per application. Estimated passport processing times can vary, but the State Department currently says that it can take about six to eight weeks for routine processing requests and two to three weeks for expedited service.

If you’re traveling abroad and noticed that your passport has suffered damage, you can apply for a new passport at your nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate office. The process is very similar to applying for a passport domestically, and you’ll need to show up in person to an Embassy or Consulate as you would in the USA. To cut down on wait time, appointments to apply for a passport can typically be made online. On the upside, processing times for Embassies and Consulates tend to be fairly quick.

A person handing a passport with a passport cover to someone

Buying and using a passport cover is one of the best ways to protect your passport.

Courtesy of Unsplash/Getty Images

Tips for preventing damage to passports

The best way to avoid a damaged passport is to prevent the situation altogether. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are the best ways to keep your passport pristine:

  • Store your passport in a dry, safe compartment within your carry-on bag or personal item (ideally, in a place you always put it so you never forget where it is).
  • Make sure your passport is out of the reach of pets and children. (We love them dearly, but can we trust them with one of our most important government documents . . . ?)
  • Invest in a passport cover. Not only are they stylish, but they also can help protect your passport from damage.
  • If you’re planning a beach vacation, invest in a waterproof dry bag. Water and passports simply do not mix—need we say more?
Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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