Don’t let a passport stand in the way between you and your next great adventure.
Following a year of quarantine, the world is starting to slowly open up again and with it, people are beginning to make travel plans. As countries around the world relax their border restrictions, you may need to dust off that passport and make sure it’s ready for international travel. After your suitcase is packed, flights are confirmed, and COVID-19 tests or vaccine documents are secured, the last thing you’ll want is to realize there’s an issue with your passport. Or worse, that it’s expiring mere weeks before you’re supposed to take off on that long-awaited vacation.
Perhaps you are one of the estimated one-third of Americans who doesn’t have a passport. If you’re looking to change that, applying for your first passport book is not as complicated as you might think. Whatever your situation, we’ve got you covered with the guidelines and rules you’ll need to know when it comes to renewing or getting a new passport.
INSIDER TIPInformation in this article is subject to change, so make sure to double-check the State Department’s website for the latest updates regarding passport requirements, processing times, and appointments.
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Renewing Your Passport in a Pinch
If you just realized your passport is expired or will soon be expired, you can make an online appointment at one of several passport agencies available across the country. Passport agencies offer very limited in-person appointments for those who need to expedite the renewal of their passport 72 hours ahead of travel. You can schedule the appointment two weeks in advance, but the appointment must be within three business days of you jetting off. Just know that you’ll be expected to pay an additional $60 fee for expediting a passport.
What to Do in Case of an Emergency
What happens if you need to travel for a family emergency? “Right now” appointments for life or death circumstances—which may include a family member being in the hospital, seriously ill, or on life support—are available if you need your passport rushed. In order to expedite your passport renewal, you will need to present several documents such as a signed letter from a doctor or a death certificate, and you need to show proof of international travel whether it’s an airline ticket, reservation, or itinerary.
INSIDER TIPBecause rush appointments are very limited, the only option is to call in advance. Be prepared to call a few times before you get through to someone and are able to book an appointment.
Expediting Your Passport Ahead of a Trip
Travel plans set in motion? If you’ve just realized your passport needs to be renewed, you can opt for expediting your passport. Expediting times have been fluctuating between 4 to 12 weeks, and likely aren’t as fast as you may expect for expedited service. Even if you hand over extra cash ($60 to be exact), you may still need to wait up to three months until your new travel book arrives. If you have travel plans set for the upcoming weeks or months, you shouldn’t depend on this option. Be prepared that you may need to make some changes to your itinerary.
Attend a Passport Acceptance Fair
For those who have never had a passport, consider attending a special passport fair in your region. The goal of these fairs is to make it easier for people to apply for their passports. Passport Acceptance Fairs are on offer throughout the United States. Make sure to check online for updates on their latest events and dates.
Applying for a Passport in Person
The U.S. recommends renewing a passport by mail, but there are some situations that will require applying in person, such as for first-time applicants, children, or if your last passport was issued before you were 16 years old. Due to COVID-19, many passport centers are still closed while others are operating at reduced capacity. Make sure to call or check the website of your local passport agency before showing up.
The Real ID Act
When renewing or applying for your passport, consider obtaining a passport card for an additional fee. Beginning May 3, 2023, the “Real ID” act will come into effect, which will require all travelers (and visitors to specific federal facilities) to have a government-issued ID, such as a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or another government-issued ID (such as a passport). Apply for both a passport card and passport book to save yourself time and future headaches.
Check the Status of Your Passport Application
Getting antsy and wondering what’s up with your passport application? You can call or use a handy online tool that lets you know the status of your passport and whether it’s processing or if there’s any information missing on your application. You’ll need to input your date of birth, social security number, and last name (with hyphens and suffixes) to quickly check your status online.
Renewing Your Passport While Abroad
If you’re living overseas and need to renew your passport, don’t fret! You can renew it through the nearest U.S. embassy where you reside or are currently based. Be aware that most U.S embassies prefer or only allow renewals by snail mail. Check your local embassy’s website for specific requirements and instructions on how to renew a passport outside of the United States.
Getting Home With an Expired Passport
It goes without saying, that the best way to avoid an expired passport while traveling is to check your passport’s expiration date ahead of your trip. But, let’s say you get stranded abroad with a now-expired passport. Current regulations state that you can fly home with an expired passport so long as the expiration date is after or on January 1, 2020. Before assuming you can fly home, make sure to first check the long list of requirements, and make sure your passport isn’t damaged or altered.
Do You Need a New Passport Photo?
If your physical appearance has significantly changed, you may need to get a new passport. Don’t worry if you’ve dyed your hair or shaved your beard, you don’t have to go through the hassle. However, if you’ve had surgery on your face, have new face or neck tattoos that are visible in your photo, have removed facial tattoos, or have lost or gained significant weight, these are considered circumstances where a new photo, and therefore, a new passport may be required. The goal of the State Department is to ensure you can be identified by your passport photo.
Taking Your Own Passport Photos
Whether you want to avoid a trip to the nearest photoshop or a visit to your local passport agency, you can choose to take your own passport photos so long as they strictly follow the guidelines. Use the State Department’s online photo tool to ensure your photo is the correct size and meets the requirements. Should your passport selfie not make the cut, you’ll be asked to retake the photos, resend your application, and pay for postage again.
Getting a Passport for Young Teens & Children
For children under age 16, applying for a passport in person is mandatory. Both parents or legal guardians must accompany the child to the appointment, and you’re required to bring documentation (such as a birth certificate or adoption decree) to prove that you’re the child’s legal guardian. Make sure to check the list of documents required before arriving at your appointment.
Frequent Traveler? Request More Passport Pages
Planning on exploring and traveling the globe as much as possible in the next decade? The standard passport has 28-pages, but you can request 52-pages at no extra cost. It’s always good to make sure you have at least two blank pages in your passport as most countries will require it for stamps or full-page visas.
INSIDER TIPWhen getting a new passport, opt for 52-pages because if you run out of pages, you’ll be required to get a new passport, even if it’s not expiring soon.
Always Check the Expiration Date
Although U.S. passports are valid up until their expiration date, many countries require a minimum 3-month to 6-month validity upon arrival. So, if your passport is set to expire in two months and you have a trip planned abroad, it’s likely you’ll be turned away before boarding your flight. Check the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting to make sure you don’t end up with canceled plans.