After years of pandemic-curtailed travel, US vacationers are again packing their bags en masse. Over half of Americans are planning to travel for leisure during the first six months of 2023, according to an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of the US Travel Association. Per American Express’ 2023 Global Travel Trends Report, 85 percent of respondents reported their intentions to take two or more leisure trips this year.
For those eyeing an international escape, there’s one travel essential necessitating extra planning: your passport. Required for traveling between countries, a passport is a formal document identifying the passenger and their country of citizenship. Due to high demand, processing times for new US passports and renewals are 10 to 13 weeks for routine applications and seven to nine weeks for expedited applications. As recently as this February, processing times were six to nine weeks for routine applications and three to five weeks for expedited applications — so the situation can change quickly. The “unprecedented demand” for passports and subsequent delays has complicated upcoming summer travel plans for many, with some lawmakers hamstrung in their ability to help their constituents secure their documents.
If you have an overseas trip on the books, this is one to-do list item on which you shouldn’t procrastinate. The best time to start the application process for a passport or passport renewal is before you schedule a vacation. Whether you’re applying for the first time or need to renew the document, here’s what you need to get a US passport.
Who can get a passport?
United States citizens (both by birth and naturalization) as well as US nationals — those born in American Samoa, Swains Island, or the US Minor Outlying Islands — are eligible for an American passport. Passports for applicants 16 years of age and older are valid for 10 years. Passports for children under 16 are valid for five years.
If you have plans to travel internationally during the year your passport expires, make sure you’re not cutting it too close. Some countries require your passport to still be valid six months after your trip; for example, if your passport expires in June, you won’t be able to travel to Turkey in March. Look up your destination country to see its passport validity requirements.
The documents you need to get a passport
If you’re applying for a passport for the first time, you need to fill out an application, submit evidence of citizenship (a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, or certificate of citizenship) — both the original and a photocopy — show a current form of ID (driver’s license, government employee ID, US permanent resident card, or non-driver ID), a photocopy of the ID, and a photo.
If you’re applying on behalf of your child, you need documentation that lists the parents or legal guardian of the child, like a birth certificate, adoption decree, or custody decree. Both parents must consent to the child receiving a passport, unless only one parent has sole custody. The Department of State suggests both parents apply in person for the child’s passport together, but if one parent can’t make it, they can submit a statement of consent (which must be signed in the presence of a notary). If you can’t locate the other parent, you’ll need to complete another form instead.
You can print the application and fill it in by hand (using black ink only) or you can fill out the form online and print it. Take extra care to ensure you’re spelling your name correctly or aren’t mistaking your Social Security number. “One of the biggest, yet most overlooked, passport application mistakes is putting incorrect or incomplete information on your application,” says travel blogger Marissa Strang. “It can take three weeks for passport services to send you the letter requesting a correction, delaying the process even further.”
Passport photos must meet specific requirements. The image must be in color and have been taken within the last six months — no selfies allowed. Your face must be in the center of the frame and you must have a neutral expression. The background of the photo must be white or off-white and without shadows. If you wear glasses, take them off. A family member or friend can take your photo, but you’ll have to print it out for the application. Pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS also offer passport photo services — just double-check that your local store provides the service. Or you can have your picture taken at the passport acceptance facility; this is the place where first-time passport applicants will need to apply in person. Passport acceptance facilities are usually post offices, clerks of court, public libraries, and other local government offices. You can search by zip code to find the nearest passport acceptance facility.
If you’re renewing your passport, you can apply by mail but only if you meet all of the following criteria: You have your current passport to mail with the application, the passport is undamaged, it was issued to you when you were 16 or older, it was issued within the last 15 years, and it was issued to your current name or you can document your name change. To document a name change, you need to submit a certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court-ordered name change document. Maybe your current passport was issued when you were in high school or you lost it: You’ll need to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility. Find one near you by searching by zip code.
Those renewing passports have a different application to fill out. Other than the application, all you need to renew is your current passport, photo, and, if applicable, name change documents. Then, mail your application. (The process for renewing your passport online has been paused.)
Applying for a passport or renewing your passport costs a fee. For adults the cost is $130 (both for first-time applicants and renewals), and for children the cost is $100. You can pay an extra $60 to have the process expedited. You’ll need to pay by check or money order, made out to the US Department of State. First-time applicants will have to pay an additional $35 execution fee to the facility where you’re applying for your passport.
Where to apply for a passport
First-time applicants or folks who need to renew in person must find a location to apply and submit their application. Search to find the nearest passport acceptance facility. You may need to make an appointment in advance.
Under very limited circumstances, you can apply for a passport at one of the passport agencies nationwide. You must have an appointment and only two appointment types are available: Life-or-Death Emergency Service and Urgent Travel Service. If you need to travel internationally within the next three days due to the death of an immediate family member, or an immediate family member is dying or has a life-threatening injury or illness, you can qualify for a life-or-death emergency appointment. For urgent travel appointments, you must be traveling internationally within two weeks. You must call to make an appointment. “If you need to call to make a same-day appointment, don’t do so on a Monday,” says Hans Mast, a travel adviser for Golden Rule Travel. “Try to call at the least convenient times to maximize your chances of getting through and minimize your competition.”
While there are many third-party services available to help applicants with the process for a fee, Phil Dengler, co-owner of the travel resource website The Vacationer, advises against utilizing these businesses. “None of these services can get you your passport quicker, and they are really just middlemen,” Dengler says. “These private companies simply submit your passport application or renewal by doing the same process that is available to you.”
When to expect your passport
In addition to the 10 to 13 weeks for standard processing, it may take up to two weeks for your information to arrive at the passport office and another two weeks for your passport to be mailed to you. (For first-time applicants, your citizenship documents will be mailed back to you separately from your passport.) At a maximum, expect upward of four months to get your passport. You can check the status of your passport online to get a clearer picture of its arrival time.
Another option for expediting the process is to ask your senator or representative for assistance, says Ashley Paddock, the owner of the travel blog Wanna Get Away On Points. “We did this in 2021 when we had an international trip planned and our newborn’s passport was taking longer than expected,” Paddock says. “After working with our representative’s office, we had the passport in hand the next week.” Call your representative’s office and explain you have upcoming international travel plans and your passport still hasn’t arrived. Provide the staffer the name on the passport application, when and where you’re traveling, when you submitted the application, and the application status as it appears online.
The representative’s office will request additional information and a casework authorization form from you: a written statement allowing their office to look into this for you, Paddock says. You’ll then get a notice from the US Department of State when the passport has been mailed.
“Your reps can bypass a lot of the bureaucracy and go straight to the executive offices of the relevant federal government agencies on a whole range of issues, passports included,” Mast says. “Often, reps will have dedicated staffers to help their constituents with these kinds of issues.”
While this is a useful tip, it should only be used when all other avenues have been exhausted, Mast says. Considering current delays in processing, your representatives may only be able to help in limited circumstances, like emergencies and family deaths.
The reward for such an extensive process is a document you won’t need to replace for another decade. (As soon as you get your passport, set a reminder in your phone for nine years from then to start the renewal process so you won’t forget.) Make sure you store your passport in a secure place — and don’t forget to bring it with you. Enjoy your travels!