For even the most well traveled, it’s often easy to forget the time and paperwork required to make sure you get all your travel documents in time for that next trip abroad.
When it comes to planning international travel, it’s essential to know what kinds of documents and visas you will need and how long it will take to receive them. Whether you’re a first-time international traveler or an experienced globe-trotter, applying for a new passport or renewing an expired one can take longer, or require more paperwork, than you might have realized. Here is an essential guide to getting your passport on time and (hopefully) with the least amount of headaches or hassle.
How long does it take to get a passport?
To get a new or renewed passport in the United States, it’s important to allow ample time for the process, especially around the holidays when government offices may be closed. Processing times can take between four to six weeks for a standard application. The U.S. Department of State tries to provide realistic expectations about how long the process should take via its website, but it’s always good to build in some buffer.
You must apply in person at a passport center or passport acceptance facility if you are seeking your first U.S. passport, your previous passport was issued when you were under 16, it was issued more than 15 years ago, or your passport was lost, stolen, or damaged. Be sure to print out the appropriate documentation and review what will be needed before you visit. If you plan to apply in person, it would be wise to make an appointment. If you qualify to renew your passport by mail, acceptance facilities will not take your application.
Passport acceptance facilities are locations that have been designated by the State Department to accept passport applications on its behalf, and can often be found in post offices, libraries, or other government offices. Most of these require an appointment, which can be hard to come by at the last minute.
When applying for a passport, legal identification is required, including a birth certificate, a U.S. passport (it can be an expired one), a certificate of citizenship, and/or a certificate of naturalization. Newly married or divorced applicants who wish to have their names changed on their passport will need supporting documentation, such as an official marriage certificate or divorce decree. If your photo ID comes from out of state, you may also have to present a second form of identification, such as a Social Security card.
You also will need new passport photos. Typically, drugstores and places like Costco offer same-day passport photo services and should be up to date on the latest requirements, including the right size and exposure of the photo, as well as what kind of accessories or facial expressions are accepted and preferred – i.e., glasses off, and a neutral expression.
Finally, you will be asked to provide a check or money order to cover the $110 fee (children under 16 pay $80), and you will need to have the proper forms filled out. If you’re renewing a passport, you must send the old one with the application.
Even if you already have a passport, many countries require that it be valid at least six months after traveling there. Another caveat for some countries is that you must have at least two blank pages for visa stickers and stamps. These are all things that can curtail your travel unexpectedly at the airport, so review the specific requirements of the countries you will be traveling to and through.
Once you get a new passport, the agency also returns your old one with a hole punched in the cover, which invalidates it. Be sure not to mistakenly travel with the old one in lieu of the valid new one.
If you travel often, you can request permission to have a second U.S. passport. The reason some very frequent travelers opt to have a second passport is that, in the event they need to send one away for visa applications, they can still travel abroad with the other one. You can also request a passport with additional pages when you apply, which will help to avoid filling up your passport with visas and stamps before it expires, but won’t help you if you need to send one away for visas.
What if I’m in a hurry?
Expeditor services can be a lifesaver if you need a passport in a hurry (some even assist with getting a passport within 24 hours). For a fee, these companies will often send someone to the passport agency to present your documentation on your behalf.
Trusted services like RushMyPassport.com are skilled at outlining everything that will be needed to properly facilitate getting a rushed passport, including making sure clients have the right kind of passport photos and forms filled out to move the process along smoothly and quickly.
That kind of service does not come cheap. These companies can charge hefty fees based on how quickly you need your passport. The fastest turnarounds can cost upward of $300 to $400, and that is on top of the fees charged by the State Department. For many travelers, though, that might be money well spent.
U.S. passport agencies offer an expedited service for an additional $60 to get a passport anywhere from within a few business days to within a few weeks. To receive a passport that fast, you must apply in person at one of the 27 passport agencies throughout the country, and depending on how quickly you need it, you will be asked to show documentation validating your request, such as your already-purchased flight, a death certificate, or a signed letter from a doctor if the reason is a life-or-death emergency. You can schedule an appointment online, but the best way to get the appointment and all the information you need regarding an expedited passport is by calling the passport hotline at 877-487-2778.
If you are not near, or cannot get to, a U.S. passport agency in person, you can apply for an expedited passport via mail, but that will mean getting a passport within four weeks, as opposed to within four to six weeks — so it will only speed up the process by a couple weeks. This is where the private expediting services might come in handy.
Passports for kids
Children under 15 (including newborn infants) must be present when applying, and will receive passports that are valid for five years. Once they turn 16, they are eligible for a 10-year passport. In addition to the standard passport application, children also need to show parental relationship, such as their birth certificate, and both parents or guardians must consent to the issuance of a child’s passport. If there is only one legal parent, that person will need to provide documentation supporting the fact, such as a court order granting sole legal custody to the one parent, or a copy of a death certificate. If only one parent can appear, the other will be required to sign and have a statement of consent notarized, which can be submitted along with a photocopy of the non-attending parent’s ID.
Why did I get denied?
Triple-check an application before submitting it, because a mistake as simple as a missing signature or forgetting to complete one section of one of the forms could derail a timely application. Other potential delays include outstanding child support over $1,500 or unpaid tax debt. Probation and felony issues could factor into not being able to secure a passport, too. The government may need additional documentation or proof of citizenship before handing over that coveted blue book. Unfortunately, fees will not be returned if your passport application is denied.
If you lose your passport more than once, your renewal passport may only be valid for less than two years. Passports should be treated as a prized possession. Store them securely, and encourage others to apply for one so they can get out there and explore the world.