There’s a lot of information out there regarding what to know about when you’re applying for a U.S. passport for the first time, which can be a daunting process. But in some ways, renewing your passport can be just as complicated. Passports are typically valid for 10 years, but are only issued for five years for children under 16. With some advance preparation, you can streamline the process and keep it free of any potential roadblocks. Here’s what you’ll need to know if your passport is up for renewal. Many people renew a passport because their old one has expired, but there are several other reasons to do so—if it’s lost or stolen, if you’ve changed your name, or if you need to correct an error.
Start with the correct form
While applying for a new passport has a specific form, the process of renewing a passport can be slightly different. Form DS-82 is what you’re looking for if you’re applying by mail.
In-person applications, including for children under 16 (who are required to apply in person with a parent or guardian), use form DS-11. To complicate things, 16- and 17-year-olds must apply in person, unless their latest passport was issued after they turned 16 (a renewal may be needed due to name change or limited validity).
You’ll also need form DS-11 if this is your first passport, if your last passport was lost or stolen, or if your last passport was issued prior to age 16 or more than 15 years ago. Any of these situations require in-person application.
If your last passport had limited validity (less than a decade for adults) or if you are correcting a passport error, there’s another form for that, DS-5504. This is also the form for changing your name within a year of having your passport issued. If your name changed due to marriage after more than a year since your passport was issued, use DS-82 or DS-11 and submit proof of identification showing your married name. Special forms are also necessary for reporting a lost or stolen passport or one that never successfully arrived to your address by mail.
What you’ll need
In addition to the correct form, you’ll need two recent color passport photos, which cannot be more than six months old. Typically, drugstores and photography stores can snap passport photos in front of a white background. Neither wearing glasses nor using touchup software is permitted. A “natural smile” (or none at all) is required, and selfies do not qualify. Keep the photos in mint condition as those that are damaged or worn will be refused.
Send your old passport (or proof of citizenship) with the renewal documents. This means that you cannot travel outside the country while you are awaiting your new passport, unless you qualify for a second U.S. passport. You might want to consider one if you travel internationally frequently, especially to countries that require visas. A second passport allows you to travel while your other one is being processed—and lets you avoid paying expediting fees.
How much does it cost to renew a passport?
An adult passport book renewal costs $110, while an optional passport card costs an additional $30. A passport card can be used as identification for domestic air travel and also at land and sea ports of entry from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. It can not be substituted for a passport when traveling by air.
Children under 16 pay $80, but there’s a separate administrative fee of $35 (passport processing is funded mostly by users, not the U.S. government). This is in addition to any required fees ($60 plus shipping) to have the application expedited. The timeline varies depending upon how fast you need it; if all things go properly in some cases, that could be as few as 24 hours. Third-party agencies will tack on their own fees but will also ensure that everything is in order on your behalf.
Guidelines to consider
Many countries require that your passport have six months of validity remaining from the date you enter the country. This helps to avoid any issues if you stay longer and are left without a valid passport to use upon departure. While this requirement is not applicable to all countries, it is a good rule of thumb and many airlines may deny boarding at the U.S. point of departure for this reason. Keep an eye on the date of six months before expiration so that you can begin the renewal process before then in case you have upcoming travel.
If you must travel in a hurry or due to an emergency, and your passport is valid for less than six months, contact your airline or travel agent to see if you can use your existing passport. You may have to apply for a rushed passport through an expediting service like RushMyPassport.com, which is recommended because it can address any potential pitfalls that could slow down the application. You probably will need details of imminent travel to prove the need for a rush, although booking a refundable ticket or hotel reservation as a “placeholder” is sufficient if you are still ironing out the details of your trip.
You can apply in person if you live near a passport acceptance facility (many post offices qualify), which would be faster because you eliminate the transit time for documents, but for many people this is not always a feasible option.
Finally, any time you send away important personal documents, it is a good idea to snap a photo of each in case you need to report something missing in the mail. Remember that standard passport renewals can take two to three weeks, making it unwise to plan international travel during that time frame. If you need to travel out of the country before then, be sure to pay for an expedited renewal.
You can renew your passport at any time while it is valid or up to 15 years after it has expired. After that time frame, you must apply for a new one. And once you have a new passport, don’t forget to update your Global Entry or GOES account, where your Trusted Traveler information is stored, as well as any other expedited screening programs tied to your passport number. You might have a shiny new passport, but without updating your information, you’ll be stuck in the regular security lines.