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What You Need to Know About Passports

What You Need to Know About Passports

If you are planning to travel abroad this year, it's time to get a passport, or perhaps to renew the one you have. Here's what you need to know.

How long does it take? Passport processing normally takes 4 to 6 weeks, whether you apply by mail or in person. Expedited processing can take as little as 3 weeks. However, getting a passport can take longer if you apply during a peak demand time, such as before summer vacation and winter break or before a major international event like the World Cup or the Olympics.

Where to apply. Whether you want regular or expedited processing, you have to apply in person for a new passport and for some passport renewals. Usually you can go to a post office that is designated as a Passport Acceptance Facility. If you need a passport in less than 2 weeks, you must make an appointment at a Passport Agency. (See the State Department's "Where to Apply" web page to find these locations.)

Passport by mail. If you are renewing a recent passport, you may be able to renew by mail. You can do this only if your passport was issued less than 15 years ago, is undamaged, and if you were over 16 when it was issued. You will need all the same documents as for applying in person.

Renewing an expiring passport. Even if you have a current, valid passport, you will need to renew it before you travel if it will expire soon. Most countries require that your passport be valid until at least 6 months after you complete your trip.

Documents you need. To get a new passport, you will need the following documents:

  • Passport application, which you can get at most post office locations, or fill out online from the State Department's Passports web page.
  • Evidence of US citizenship, such as an original copy of your birth certificate, a previous US passport, a Certificate of Naturalization, or a Certificate of Citizenship.
  • Valid photo ID, such as a driver's license, government employee ID, military ID, foreign passport; or your previous US passport (can be expired).
  • Proof of legal name change, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order, if your name has changed from a previous passport, because of marriage or divorce.
  • Passport photo, which must meet very specific requirements. Many retail businesses offer passport photos, including pharmacies like CVS and Walgreen's, and even some post offices that are passport acceptance locations. This usually costs $10 to $20.
  • Photocopies of all documents, in black and white on 8.5 x 11 (letter) paper.

What it costs. The fee for normal passport processing and delivery by US mail is currently $135. Expedited processing costs an additional $60.

Visas. Every country has different visa requirements, and the time it takes to get one can vary. The best way to make sure you have the visas you will need is to start applying for visas as soon as you have booked your trip.

We can answer many of your passport and visa questions when you talk to us about planning your next overseas trip.

Don Fuchs February 19, 2017