Everything You Need to Know About Getting a New U.S. Passport

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.

 A U.S. passport on a blue cushion

Travelers should set aside six to eight weeks to get a new passport or expect to pay more for expediting services.

Photo by Shutterstock

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?

Typically, processing times can take between six to eight weeks for a standard application. However, currently wait times are between 10 to 13 weeks, due to a backlog of applications.

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. 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.

How far in advance to apply for a passport

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.

Don’t forget that you can also download the Mobile Passport app, which allows you to fill out all your customs declaration information through your mobile device and then creates a QR code that you show to an immigration officer when going through customs upon arrival back into the United States.

How to expedite a passport application

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. Expect to pay minimum $300 for the service, though.

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 only speed up the process by a couple weeks. This is where the private expediting services might come in handy.

Things that could delay your passport

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 $2,500 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.

Once you have identified the reason behind your application being denied, correct the issue (be that providing the missing documents, fixing the information, or dealing with the outstanding payment) and reapply.

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.

Costs and how to apply

Finally, you will be asked to provide a check or money order to cover the $130 fee (children under 16 pay $100, plus an additional $35 acceptance fee), 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.

This article originally appeared online in November 2018; it was updated in 2020 and 2023, to include current information.

Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.
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