Are you freaking out because you have international travel approaching quickly but you don’t have a passport yet? Or, maybe you’re way ahead of the game and just trying to get a jump on it for future travel. If you’re in the first category, fear not, procrastinators, expedition is an option (for a fee, of course). Here is everything you will need to know about obtaining your passport and then some.
The unofficial guide from someone who has officially been there and done that – a few times more than they’d want to. #longstory #dontask
The word on the street is that getting your passport is a fairly confusing, costly, and daunting process. The time-frames, fees, and documentation requirements are hard to understand.
Okay, I don’t know what the word on the street is, but those are my words. And that’s why I’ve put all of that info together for you in one handy spot; to attempt to make it a wee little bit easier to consume.
If you want to read the official guide you can find this here, official US site but the info there is a lot more spread out.
*Spoiler alert: If you’re traveling internationally – that’s the part you should be excited about. The passport stuff stinks.
The nice thing is they last for 10 years (if you have an adult passport) so you don’t have to worry about doing it very often. You can also usually renew it through the mail.
That is, unless you’re like me and literally had your passport ripped from your possession by airport security in Ireland. I’ll ruin the story by jumping to the end which goes like this… “and I had to follow the application process for a lost/stolen passport and get another passport.”
Bottom line, don’t ever claim your passport is lost until you are SURE that it is actually lost, as you can never achieve un-lost status. Even while holding said lost passport in your hand going “no, see, it’s not lost, that’s me… and this is my passport.”
A word to the wise – avoid stuffing your passports into your husband’s camera case for “safe keeping” in a hidden pocket that you have never used before, while half asleep. Stupid, stupid, mistake; a craptastic event that keeps on giving, even five years later. Here’s what you don’t want to hear in a foreign airport, “can you come with me,” and then proceed to be seated in a special room surely to be forgotten about for all of eternity. Not fun.
Passport Prices & Fees
These are the standard fees for a passport obtained through a local government passport agency or post office. Even the expedited fee below is for the government expedite, and only expedites your processing within their rush service time-frames.
There are additional options for those who have missed the opportunity for normal delivery time-frames, but keep in mind that these alternatives will cost you a lot more. Obviously, whenever possible, try to plan ahead with enough time to get your passport through the normal channels.
|Passport Type||Standard Fee (6-8 weeks)||Acceptance Agent Fee||Total Passport Fees*|
|New Adult Passport||$110||$35||$145|
(lost, stolen, damaged)
|Child (Minor) Passport||$80||$35||$115|
|Passport Card (Adult)||$30||$35||$65|
|Passport Card (Child)||$15||$35||$50|
|Second Duplicate Passport||$110||NA||$110|
*Expedited passport processing is available for travelers with upcoming travel plans. Expect the time frame to be 3 weeks. An additional $60 is required for the expedited government fee.
Note: If you want to expedite delivery as well, that is an additional fee – at the time of this article it was $16.48 extra for 1-2 day delivery vs. the free standard delivery of 8 business days.
Passport Fee Payments
If you are filing a request for a new passport, you will need two separate payments, one for the passport and one for the execution fee. These payments are made to two separate entities.
For the passport fee, you will make your check or money order out to “U.S. Department of State“.
For the execution fee, you will pay the facility processing the request. Typically, the payment types allowed for the execution fee is a check or money order, but check with your specific agency for their accepted methods of payment.
Note: There are no execution fees for renewals.
You can use the government to process your passport information – but this will be on government time, meaning, painfully slow. The normal turnaround times without paying anything extra for expedite or delivery is 6-8 weeks, including delivery.
If you choose to expedite, you may do so with the government for an additional $60.00 fee (on top of your passport and execution fee) to make your processing time and delivery a total of 2-3 weeks.
You may also sign up to visit a Passport Agency or Center (agency locations are identified on this list) to potentially get your passport within 8 days. This will require proof of emergency (travel plans, death certificates, or anything that validates that your need is “urgent”.) The downside of going with this option is that sometimes you cannot book an appointment with the agency for a few weeks, delaying your total time for obtaining a passport even if you are wanting the priority/urgent rush of 8 days.
If you have a pressing need that goes beyond the regular expedite time, and you don’t believe you are going to make your date on time, you can look into using a Passport Rush service.
Here are some online Passport Expedite options:
Passport rush services can process your passport information much quicker than government agencies but come at a much higher cost. You can even get a one day turnaround for an additional $530 fee (on top of the passport/execution/expedite fees).
These places can do the form processing but the requirements to get your forms validated at an official Passport agency still apply. If you call one of these 3rd party expedite companies they will walk you through the best and quickest locations near you to get your paperwork verified.
If you are in a dire situation, this is the best way to go.
How Long is My Passport Valid?
Adults (16 and over): For a 10-year adult passport, these are valid for 10 years (but you must travel before 6 months of the expiration date – see the warning above). So, technically, these are good for 9 1/2 years.
Adult passports are issued to anyone 16 years or older, although a minor who is 16 or 17 requires parental consent to obtain a passport.
Children 16 and under: For a child under the age of 16, passports are valid for 5 years. This means if the child was 15 when they received their passport, they will not need another one until they reach 20.
If your previous passport was issued when you were under the age of 16, you will have to follow the steps to apply for a brand new passport – you will not have the option to use the renewal process or DS-82 form.
Applying For a New Passport
If you are applying for the first time, need a lost/stolen replacement, or have had a change of name, you will most likely be using form DS-11. You have to submit this in person and need to go into your closest Passport office. For a list of passport offices near you, check the Passport Acceptance Facility Locator. This can be your local Post Office, but not all Post Offices offer this service.
You qualify for DS-11 if you meet any of the following criteria:
- It’s your very first time – don’t worry, it’ll be slow (no promise on gentle)
- You are under 16
- You are 16 or 17
- You don’t qualify for the DS-82 form (which is the better one in price and convenience)
What you need to bring to the Passport Office:
- Fill out the DS-11 form (following their very specific paper/printing requirements) but make sure you do not sign it. You have to have a witness (cue the gospel music —-> now.)
- Proof of Citizenship – this typically means your birth certificate, but you can check for these other possible alternatives if you don’t have one.
- Proof of Relationship if you are under 16 years old – this is a separate process in and of itself, go to the government’s page to learn about what you need to do.
- A 2″ by 2″ photo – the rules on this photo are very specific. Jump to photo rules.
- Photo Identification:
You must present a government-issued photo identification document (ID) when submitting Form DS-11 if you are:
- Over age 18
- The parent or guardian identifying an applicant under age 18
You must present one primary ID which includes your photo. If you cannot present one of the primary photo IDs below, please present a combination of at least two secondary IDs.
Bring the ID and a photocopy of the ID when you apply
Primary Photo IDs (submit one)
- Valid or expired, undamaged U.S. passport book or passport card
- In-state, fully valid driver’s license or enhanced driver’s license with photo
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship
- Government employee ID (city, county, state, or federal)
- U.S. military or military dependent ID
- Current (valid) foreign passport
- Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular ID) – commonly used by a parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant
- U.S. Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) – commonly used by a parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant
- Trusted Traveler IDs (including valid Global Entry, FAST, SENTRI, and NEXUS cards)
- Enhanced Tribal Cards and Native American tribal photo IDs
- Other documents: In-state, fully valid learner’s permit with photo, In-state, fully valid non-driver ID with photo, and temporary driver’s license with photo. Note: you may be asked to present an additional ID when presenting one of these 3 documents.
Secondary IDs (submit at least two from the list below)
- Out-of-state driver’s license or enhanced driver’s license with photo
- Learner’s or temporary driver’s permit (without a photo)
- In-state, fully valid non-driver ID (without a photo)
- Out-of-state, non-driver ID
- Temporary driver’s license (without a photo)
- Social Security card
- Voter registration card
- Employee work ID
- Student ID
- School yearbook with identifiable photograph
- Selective Service (draft) card
- Medicare or other health card
- Expired driver’s license
- Form DS-71, for an Identifying Witness (only available at your local Acceptance Facility or a Passport Agency).
Renewing Your Passport
You can renew by mail using Form DS-82 if your most recent passport meets all five of these requirements:
- Is submitted with your application
- Is undamaged (other than normal “wear and tear”)
- Was issued when you were age 16 or older
- Was issued within the last 15 years
- Was issued in your current name (or you can document your name change with an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order)
If any of the above statements do not apply to you, you must apply in person using form DS-11.
If you do qualify to renew by mail, these are the items you will need:
- Your completed DS-82 form (located at the link above)
- Your recent passport
- Official name change documents (if applicable)
- One photo that meets the criteria for photos
- Staple the photo to the application. Please use 4 staples vertically in the corners as close to the outer edges as possible.
- Do not bend the photo.
- You must mail this information using the USPS.
- If you have requested and paid the expedite fees, mark “EXPEDITE” on the front of the envelope.
- It is recommended to use a trackable delivery option.
How to Take Your Passport Photo
- You need to bring or mail in 2 identical photos.
- You can do this by having someone take your picture if you have a white background and a photo printer at your home.
- No selfies.
- High quality images only; high resolution and not blurry.
- The size of your photos needs to be 2″ by 2″. Those are inches.
- Head must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 – 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
- You can go to Walgreens, Costco, or RiteAid to have these done for less than $13.00 or so. The benefit to going this route is that they do them all the time and will take a photo that meets the requirements.
- No hats or glasses, or anything covering up the face.
- You can wear religious coverings if you have a signed statement that attests to the required use of the covering, but it cannot be blocking your main facial features. The same goes for medically required head coverings, you need a signed statement and it can’t block your facial features.
- Photos cannot be digitally manipulated.
- Photos cannot be damaged or smudged.
- No uniforms allowed in picture.
- Attire must be everyday wear.
- Expression must be neutral with no excessive smiling – basically, if you look like a murderous tweaker you are probably doing it right (at least that’s true for all of mine).
What If My Passport is Lost/Stolen?
If you are positive – VERY, VERY positive – that you will not ever find your passport, report it as lost/stolen and apply to get another one. Visit the government page for Lost/Stolen Passport information. You can print off the lost/stolen form and submit it if needed.
If you are traveling abroad when your passport is lost or stolen, contact the US Embassy in the country that you are in. You will most likely need to go to that embassy in person and request a temporary passport in order to travel back home. These can be expedited and there will be an associated cost for the passport itself as well as the expedited delivery. Plan on your return being delayed by at least a few days while you wait for your temporary passport to arrive at the embassy. If you do have a copy of your passport this will help you get your replacement one with the embassy.
Tip: I would highly suggest making a photocopy of your passports before you travel, and keep these photocopies on your person wherever you go abroad. Keep the actual passport in your hotel safe or other secured location when you are out in foreign cities, as a stolen or lost passport is VERY inconvenient to deal with (trust me on this one) and is a vacation-ruining experience. Read our how and what to pack for a trip article that goes over important documents.
How to Check My Passport Status
If you are currently waiting for your passport and would like to check the status, these are your options:
Access the Online Passport Status System to check your application status. It takes 7-10 business days for applications to be trackable online.
Call the National Passport Information Center to check your application status at 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 (TDD/TTY) between the following hours*:
Monday- Friday 8:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern Time
Saturday 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Eastern Time
*Excluding Federal Holidays
Should I get the Passport Card?
Only if you love to waste money. I’m not sure what good it does as it’s self-proclaimed to only be good for Land and Sea travel in the US, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. I’m also willing to bet most people would look at that card and ask for your “real” passport. But I haven’t had one so I don’t know for sure.
Can I pay in cash?
No. You may only use cash at some of the physical Passport Agency locations, and only for the execution fee portion. Your passport fees must be paid either by Money Order or Check.
Can I pay with a credit card?
Nope – way too advanced for the government. This cutting edge technology might be available in the future, check back in the year 3000. Seriously, though – the answer is no.
If I’m behind on child support, can I get a passport?
If you are $2500.00 or more behind on child support, you cannot get a passport (or renewal). While I personally think exiling yourself from your own country to avoid paying for your child is extreme, I am curious to see the stats that instigated turning this into a requirement.
If my passport is still valid, can I renew it?
Yes. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to use your current passport while it is being mailed in for the renewal, so plan your travel accordingly.
What if my book is filled up?
If you have no empty pages in your book you will need to apply for a renewal. Some countries require a completely empty page to travel there (I’m not sure why this is and it seems like an inefficient requirement to me).
Get Your Passport
Well, now that you know your options – don’t delay!
There’s no better time than now to start planning your next trip to an exotic destination.
Hopefully, this information will help you understand your options and get you on your way.
Happy and Safe travels my friends!
Now, for the fun part – once you get your passport, you can dress it up in fancy options like these cute Passport books available on Amazon: