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The Ultimate Guide to Applying for a Passport & Passport Renewal

Applying for a Passport & Passport Renewal
Allianz - Applying for a Passport & Passport Renewal

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.

  • If you need help replacing a lost passport, or expediting a new one, Assistance may be able to help. Keep in mind, however, that we don’t have control over processing times. If you must delay your trip because your passport is lost or stolen, that can be a covered reason for travel delay benefits.
  • However, passport problems are not a covered reason for trip cancellation. If you don’t have a passport, or if your passport is expired or missing, your travel insurance can’t reimburse you for lost travel expenses.

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…

Steps for First-Time Passport Applicants

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

  1. Schedule a trip to a passport facility: If you’re applying for a passport for the first time, have had your passport lost or stolen, need a passport for a child under 16, or need an expedited turnaround, you’ll have to apply at an authorized passport acceptance facility.
  2. Gather needed documentation: To apply for your passport, you’ll need to prove you are who you say you are, and that you’re a U.S. citizen. Here is what you’ll need:
    • Proof of identity: Bring a valid ID, which may be a U.S. driver’s license, naturalization certificate, military or government identification,  valid passport or another approved ID.
    • Proof of citizenship: You’ll need one approved document that demonstrates you’re a legal citizen of the United States. These include a certified birth certificate (one that lists both parents, registrar’s seal and applicant's full name), naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, consular report of birth abroad (for children born abroad to U.S. parents), or a valid passport (it’s OK if it’s expired).3

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.

  1. Provide a passport photo: See the “Passport Photos and Fees” section below.
  2. Complete the paperwork: Complete Form DS-11, “Application for a U.S. Passport,” online or via PDFbefore arriving at the passport office. Be sure to print the form and bring it with you. One note: Do not sign the document until you’re instructed to do so by office staff, as they’ll need to witness this signature.

How to Apply for a Passport for a Minor

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.

    1. Complete Form DS-11: Find online and PDF versions of passport forms here.
    2. Obtain a copy of the child’s birth certificate: Be sure to use an original or certified copy from your state’s vital records office, and not a commemorative version issued by some hospitals.
    3. Snap a photo. Yes, even newborn babies need a photo; the good news is that you’re likely taking a lot of baby pictures already. There are a couple of things to be aware of, however. First, you cannot have any other person in the photo, not even Mom or Dad’s hand, which can make things a bit difficult. Try laying the child on his or her back with a white blanket or sheet to provide head support. Plan B is to place your newborn in the car seat, which should be covered with a white sheet. (See additional photo guidelines below.)4
    4. Visiting an approved passport office. Remember the picture and birth certificate. Seriously, double-check before leaving home! In order to establish parental consent, both parents should be present. If one cannot make it, then he or she will need to complete a notarized copy of Form DS-3053, a statement of consent. Also, if a parent has sole custody of the child applying, he or she should bring a court order or any other necessary paperwork. Finally, a parent may sign the passport for a child who cannot yet sign his or her name. (Parents or guardians should print the child’s name, then sign their own name and indicate their relationship.)

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

How to Get a Passport Quickly

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.

Passport Photos and Fees

Passport Photo Guide

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.

  • You’ll need a color photo taken in the last six months.
  • The photo should feature your full face, with no hats, headphones, glasses or face coverings. If you wear a hat or head covering for religious reasons, submit a signed explanation. A signed doctor’s statement is required if you wear the head covering for medical reasons.
  • Use a white or off-white background.  Also, turn off your flash and use natural light.
  • Maintain a neutral or natural expression. (Smiling used to be frowned upon, but is now accepted.  )
  • Don’t blink.
  • Print on photo paper, for DIYers.
  • For sizing, print the picture out at 2” by 2.” The digital measurements need to be between 600 x 600 pixels and 1200 x 1200 pixels. State Department guidelines call for between 1” and 1 3/8” between the bottom of the chin and the top of the head.
  • Wear casual clothes or “normal street attire.” This means no uniforms, hats or glasses (unless they’re prescription eyewear and you have a signed note from your physician stating that they cannot be removed).
  • Don’t use any digital filters or retouching tools.
  • The State Department has a free cropping tool you can use to edit photos.6

Passport Fee Guide

How much does it cost to get a U.S. passport? Here are the current passport fees (as of 2021).

  • Passport Book: This is the recognizable blue passport book. It is valid for international travel to and from the United States.The fee is $110 ($80 for minors).
  • Passport Card: This credit card-sized ID is valid for travel to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The fee is $30 ($15 for minors).
  • Passport Book & Card: Frequent travelers may like having both forms of ID. The fee is $140 ($95 for minors).

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.

Steps for Passport Renewal

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:

  1. Complete the form. Fill out Form DS-82: Application for a U.S. Passport by Mail
  2. Package up your current passport – one that meets the above conditions – along with the completed form, one passport photo (unbent and stapled to the application) and the applicable fee. Select an envelope large enough that none of the contents need to be bent to fit. For name changes and other requests, additional documents apply – and fees may vary depending on the circumstances.
  3. Mail it away! Find the correct mailing address here.

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.

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