Everyone loves travel, but sometimes forgetting the logistical aspects can put your plans on hold. Specifically, if you’re trying to fly abroad, you might not realize that many countries require that your passport has anywhere from three to six months worth of validity. In other words, you can’t fly if your passport is going to expire within a month or two of your upcoming trip.

For these people, you need to renew your passport. Or, you need to apply for a passport if you’re a first-time international traveler. But with regular governmental gridlock, and added delays thanks to COVID-19 closures during the worst of the pandemic, renewing your passport can take longer than expected. As a general rule, you should give yourself as much time as possible so that you‘re not biting your nails running it down to the wire. But here’s what you need to know so you don’t run out of time either getting your first passport or renewing one that’s about to expire.

Getting A Passport — The Basics

While there are some authorized third-party expediting services that can help you prepare and submit your application to either get a new or renewed passport, the only official organization that issues them is the Department of State (DoS). Note that applications are categorized by adults, teens between 16 and 17 years of age, and children under 16.

First Time Applicants

If you’ve never applied for a passport, you’ll need to compile some information to complete your application. If you’re located in the United States, you must apply in-person at a passport acceptance facility. This is usually a post office, court house, or other authorized location that can accept passport applications on behalf of DoS.

Adults and children between the ages of 16 and 17 will need to bring the following documents, along with a completed application, and the application fee to the acceptance facility:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • A photocopy of U.S. citizenship evidence
  • Photo ID
  • Copy of photo ID
  • Passport photos

Parents and legal guardians of children under 16 years old will need to bring the following documents, with their completed application and the fee:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • A photocopy of U.S. citizenship evidence
  • Proof of parental relationship
  • Parental consent (provide proof that either both parents are legally responsible for the child or that one parent has sole custody of the child)
  • Photo ID
  • Copy of photo ID
  • Passport photos

Renewal Applicants

If you’re an adult with a passport set to expire or that has already expired but is not older than 15 years — and it has the regular 10-year expiration date — you can renew by mail. Note that you need to use a different form than first-time applicants. In most cases, you’ll simply need to fill out the renewal form, including your current passport, provide new passport photos, and the necessary filing fees.

If you’re renewing your passport because of a name change (i.e. marriage), you’ll need to include supporting documentation as proof such as a legal marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court-ordered name change document. Children under the age of 16 cannot renew their passports by mail. You’ll need to submit the renewal application in person.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Passport?

Keep in mind that timelines are always subject to change depending on what’s happening with the Department of State, if there is a backlog of other applications, or if there’s a government shutdown for any reason. However, the Department of State estimates that current routine processing times are 10 to 13 weeks — not including mailing times. Even the website advises to factor in this timeline when planning travel around applying for a new or renewing an existing passport. A word of caution though, that estimate was valid for applications on or after March 24, 2023.

I Need to Travel Sooner, Can I Get a Passport Faster?

Thankfully, this is one area where it is possible to get your passport expedited. There are two options for doing this, just know that it’s going to cost you. If you need a passport sooner than 10 weeks, DoS has an expedited service that can get you a passport in 7 to 9 weeks. While not exactly super fast, it’s about a month to two months shorter than standard processing times.

If you’re trying to leave the country within two calendar weeks, there is an option to go to an agency and have an appointment scheduled. This can only be done by calling a number. While there’s no charge for making an expedited passport application appointment, there is a hefty fee for needing a passport this quickly.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Passport?

Understandably, you’re probably curious about the fees associated with getting a passport. First time applicants will usually need to pay two fees — one to DoS and another to the acceptance facility — at the time of submission. Meanwhile renewals will pay one fee to DoS. Anyone expediting their application will also pay an additional fee for this. Fees are as follows:

  • First-time adult passport books: $130 to DoS, $35 execution fee to acceptance facility
  • First time adult passport card (only valid for travel in North America and Caribbean): $30 to DoS, $35 to acceptance facility
  • First time adult passport book & card: $160 to DoS, $35 to acceptance facility
  • Adult passport card (if you already have a book): $30 to DoS, no charge at acceptance facility
  • Minor passport book: $100 to DoS, $35 to acceptance facility
  • Minor passport card: $15 to DoS, $35 to acceptance facility
  • Minor passport book and card: $115 to DoS, $35 to acceptance facility
  • Adult passport book renewal: $130 to DoS
  • Adult passport card renewal: $30 to DoS
  • Adult passport book & card renewal: $160 to DoS
  • Optional Expedite fee: $60
  • Optional 1-2 Day delivery fee: $19.53

Be Smart and Plan Ahead

While not mentioned here, some major cities do have facilitation services that are authorized by DoS to accept and expedite passport processing. Always double check that any organization promising to expedite your passport is in fact affiliated or authorized to do so by DoS. It’s best to apply directly with DoS when possible. If you need to expedite your passport application, use one of the official passport agencies or centers listed by the agency. But your smartest move is to apply for or renew a passport first before booking any international travel.