June 1, 2020
Due to travel restrictions, plans are only available with travel dates on or after
Due to travel restrictions, plans are only available with effective start dates on or after
A passport is more than an internationally recognized legal document. It’s your ticket to explore the world.
Having a valid U.S. passport can open doors, expose you to new cultures, and allow you to escape the country without playing the part of a stowaway.
If you’re reading about passports, you most likely fall into one of two groups: either you’re renewing your passport, or you’re applying for a new one. Either way, we recommend getting in line as soon as you can! Because of delays related to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of State is reporting long backups in processing passport applications, and recommends applying at least six months before you plan to travel.1 Get the latest updates on passport processing times and delays here.
Can travel insurance help with passport problems? It depends on the situation.
Depending on a host of factors, applying for a passport can be a long, tedious process. But we’re here to make it easier. And once you have yours in hand, passports are valid for a while: five years for minors, or 10 years for those 16 and older.
So, let’s get started…
Once you’ve figured out that you need a passport, the clock starts ticking.
And more and more folks are finding out they need one. Our neighbors to the north and south — Canada and Mexico — both require a valid U.S. passport for entry. And as of May 3, 2023, U.S. travelers must have a passport, REAL ID or military ID to board domestic flights and access certain federal facilities. To learn more about the REAL ID requirements, visit the Department of Homeland Security website.
If you have all the needed documents and time to spare, applying for a U.S. passport for the first time isn’t difficult. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow. Contact the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 with any questions. Live help is available Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern, but call wait times can be long.2
You’ll need to submit an original or certified copy of your citizenship proof. It must be a physical document, not a digital version. You’ll also need to bring a legible, black and white photocopy of that proof of citizenship.
Every U.S. citizen — even the smallest infant — needs a passport for international travel. The process for getting a passport for children under 16 isn’t too different from that for adults. The State Department offers a handy step-by-step guide.
For 16- and 17-year-olds, it’s a little bit easier. Parents don’t need to accompany them to a passport office; however, something called “parental awareness” needs to be established. This means at least one parent or legal guardian is aware that the minor is applying for a passport. This obligation can be met in a number of ways, such as having a parent accompany the applicant, or signing a statement that OKs the passport application. Such statements should be accompanied by a photocopy of the ID from the parent(s) who signed the document. The parent or guardian must also be the one paying the application fees.
One more note: if a parent forbids a 16- or 17-year-old child from being issued a passport, and expresses so in writing, a passport will more than likely not be issued.5
Maybe you realized your passport has expired. Maybe it’s missing. Or maybe the dog used it as a chew toy. How long will it take to get a new one?
It could take a while. As of mid-2021, the Department of State says routine passport service can take up to 18 weeks from the day an application is submitted to the day a new passport is received. You can check your passport application status online.
You can pay an additional $60 for expedited service, which can take up to 12 weeks from the day an application is submitted to receive the new passport. The 12-week timeframe includes up to 6 weeks for processing and up to 6 weeks for mailing times on the front and back end.
Still too slow? Passport agencies offer an extremely limited number of appointments for people who are traveling internationally in the next 72 hours (3 business days). Read the rules and request an appointment here.
What if you don’t have a passport, but you need one to travel overseas for a family emergency? You may qualify for a life-or-death emergency passport if your immediate family member is outside of the United States and they have died, are dying, or have a life-threatening illness or injury. You’ll need proof of the emergency and your travel plans, in addition to following all the other passport application steps. Find more information on emergency passports here.
Ready to take the all-important passport photo? Having it taken at a drugstore may be easiest, but you can also do it yourself.
Passport photo requirements are strict! Be sure to follow them exactly, or your application will be rejected and you’ll have to start again. The State Department offers an online photo-checking tool you can use.
How much does it cost to get a U.S. passport? Here are the current passport fees (as of 2021).
In addition to these passport fees, new passport applicants will have to pay a $35 execution fee. Those who meet the conditions to renew (see “Steps for Passport Renewal” below) do not need to pay the execution fee.
If you need your passport quickly, you can pay an extra $60 for expedited service, plus $17.56 for 1-2 day delivery of passport books.
Passport fees should be paid with checks (personal, certified or cashier’s) or money orders made payable to the Department of State. If you’re visiting an office, you may be able to pay for execution fees via additional payment methods (e.g., credit card or cash). Inquire ahead of time with the facility you’ll be visiting so there are no surprises. You can learn more about fees at the State Department site.
If your passport is 10 years or older (granted you got it when you were 16 years or older) or you’ve changed your name, it’s time for a renewal. And if you have fewer than six months remaining on your passport before it expires, some countries may refuse you entry. You’ll want to renew your document before traveling.
The good news is that this process is much more user-friendly than starting the passport application process from scratch. But before getting excited about a cheaper, quicker and faster process, you should know a few things about who can and can’t follow an expedited passport renewal path. If your passport was lost or damaged, it was issued when you were younger than 16 years old, you changed names but lack the documents to validate the change, or more than 15 years have passed since you received the passport, you’ll need to swing by a passport agency.7
The good news about meeting the conditions for renewal is that you don’t need to set foot in a passport office. You can simply renew your passport by mail following these steps:
Please consider your other international travel plans prior to sending off your passport for renewal. You won’t have a passport until the new one is issued.
Now you know everything you need to know when applying for or renewing your U.S. passport. With enough time and the right organization, getting this critical travel document is a fairly stress-free process. And once you have your passport, a world of possibilities awaits.