There are several situations that might require a quick passport turnaround, from emergency travel to visiting countries with specific visa requirements.
Whether it’s last-minute travel plans or a big international trip that’s here before you know it, it’s not uncommon for travelers to have to expedite their U.S. passport applications. Rush services always cost a bit more, but are sometimes very necessary. The process (for both renewing and getting a new passport) is fairly similar to the regular application, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to two months. That lack of certainty is why many travelers are willing to pay for an expedited book.
There are several other situations that might require a new or renewed passport in a hurry. For example, several countries don’t permit entry if your passport has less than six months of validity. Others, like South Africa, require that you have two consecutive blank pages. It is best to check the State Department’s website for each country or contact your airline (or travel agency) before you hit the road to see what passport requirements there might be.
If you pay extra for faster service, you’ll be able to keep an eye on the status of your application online. You can also expedite the application of a second U.S. passport if you qualify for one. Here’s what you need to know to get a passport in your hands quickly—depending on how much time you have.
If you need it within six weeks, you can still do it yourself
If you have six weeks and plan to apply for a rushed passport, begin at the State Department’s website, where a handy checklist will keep you from making a mistake that could slow down the process. The $60 expedited fee (plus overnight shipping) is not refundable, so it helps to have someone double-check the application. This fee is in addition to the standard $110 application fee and $35 execution fee. No proof of travel is needed for the basic rush process.
You can expedite your passport by applying in person at a passport agency or by sending it via overnight mail. If you choose to apply in person, you must use form DS-11, while applications by mail require form DS-82 (download these forms here). Submitted forms must be single-sided and printed clearly. Complete the application online before printing it out or by hand in black or blue ink; remember to write “Expedited” on the envelope and include two recently taken photos that meet the passport photo specifications. If applying by mail, you must include a check; if applying in person, ask to learn what methods of payment are allowed at your specific acceptance facility.
Remember that if you have lost your passport or have special family circumstances, such as a child who needs to apply for a passport without a guardian present, different forms must be completed.
If you need it within two to three weeks, it’s best to seek help from an expeditor
To avoid any delays, it is often smarter to use an expediting agency, which rushes passport applications on a daily basis. It charges an additional fee (on top of the standard passport application fee and expedited passport service fee), but it knows the ins and outs of the expedited passport process to help you submit documentation correctly the first time around.
Services like RushMyPassport.com double-check your application before it gets submitted. A 24-hour business day turnaround costs $449 plus the standard passport application fee, but if you’re in a hurry, it can be worth it. Rush service, which takes six to seven business days, costs $179.
If you still want to apply by going to a passport acceptance facility, you should make a free appointment ahead of time. These can only be made if you plan to travel within two weeks. The facility will make an exception and let you apply for an appointment within four weeks if you also need to apply for an expedited visa with the same passport. Some agencies allow walk-in visits, but call ahead to make sure that is possible at your nearest acceptance facility.
You will need proof of travel if you pay for an expedited application within three weeks of travel. Remember that if you are missing any documentation, your application won’t be processed, which is why an expeditor can prove valuable.
If you need it within 24 to 72 hours, try going to an agency in person
If it’s a life-or-death emergency, such as illnesses and injuries or a death in your immediate family, going to an agency in person is the safest bet. Instead of wasting a day with overnight shipping, you can save valuable time (even if you have to fly to a passport agency in the departure city of your international flight). In these circumstances, it can take anywhere between 24 and 72 hours depending upon where you apply and if you can provide documentation, such as a death certificate or signed documentation from medical personnel.
You may want to pay extra for an expediting agency in this situation, because it can take care of the legwork during a stressful time. It may also be able to secure a passport within 24 hours on your behalf.
Another reason to use an agency? Many airline gate agents will tell you that they sometimes have to deny boarding to passengers if their passport does not comply with a country’s entry requirements. When this happens, travelers will often head to the nearest agency for a quick turnaround, so they can make their flight the following day.
One final tip: The best thing you can do to avoid paying extra for expediting your passport is to set a calendar reminder for six months before the expiration date. At that point, you can look ahead at your travels and figure out the best eight-week period to apply—one where, ideally, you know you won’t be heading abroad.