Whether you “borrowed” the St. Louis Arch or you want a way to get out of the States so you can explore a world that exists beyond Bud Light, bald eagles, and baseball, you’ll need to know how to get a passport. Stella Artois, here we come!
Fun fact: In 1990, only 4% of Americans had a passport. These days, 42% of Americans have a valid passport. Are we becoming more worldly as a country? Is it because the rules changed and you need one to get drunk in Cancun now? Who knows.
If you don’t have yours yet, it’s time to join the cool kids so you too can have a “I went on a date with a guy in Cambodia, got food poisoning, and spent two days unable to leave my hostel” story to share with your friends.
What Do You Need to Get a Passport?
Before you apply, you’ll need to have the following official documents ready:
- Completed new passport application form DS-11 (available in person or online)
- Proof of identity (official photo ID such as a driver’s license or military ID)
- Proof of United States citizenship (birth certificate or naturalization certificate)
- Two copies of a 2×2, color photo
- A check or money order for the application fee, execution (acceptance) fee, and any expediting fees or additional fees charged by the passport acceptance facility.
How Do I Apply for a Passport?
The application process varies depending on whether you’re applying for your first passport, or renewing your existing one.
You need a shiny new passport if:
- You’ve never had one.
- Your current one is lost or damaged.
- It was issued more than 15 years ago.
- It was issued when you were under 16 years old.
- You changed your name (very sneaky, Shmarmen Shmandiego) but have no supporting documents.
Good news: You can do the bulk of the prep work at home — like downloading the form, filling it out, and gathering the documents you need. But at some point, you’re going to need to visit a passport acceptance facility and interact with actual humans to have your passport application processed. Time to put on your big-girl pants! That’s not a metaphor. Please put some clothes on before you go.
Click here to find a passport acceptance facility near you.
How to Renew a Passport
You can renew your passport by mail if:
- It’s not damaged.
- It was issued less than 15 years ago.
- You were 16 or older when it was originally issued.
- It’s in your current name (or you have documentation of your name change).
- If all of the above apply, fill out renewal form DS-82 and follow the mailing instructions provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Passport?
How soon do you need it? We know a guy. (Just kidding, FBI-agent-in-my-computer. We do not know a guy.) The typical processing time is 6 to 8 weeks, whether you apply by mail or in person.
How Do I Get an Expedited Passport?
When you apply for one by mail or in person, you can pay an additional fee to expedite it. Expedited service typically takes 2 to 3 weeks.
You can speed things up even more by applying in person at a regional passport agency. You’ll need to make an appointment and bring proof that you’re traveling internationally within the next two weeks. Not every state has one of these agencies, so be prepared for a long drive.
Need to get out of the country within 24 hours?
We’re intrigued! But as Condé Nast Traveler reports, FedEx has partnered with RushMyPassport and can now get you an expedited passport or renew it within one business day. That means if it’s Saturday, you’re going to have to wait until Monday.
Simply stop into a FedEx location or apply online and one will be in your hands ASAP.
It’s not cheap, though. Overnight processing will cost you $449. Throw on the $170 government fee for expedited service, and you’ve got a grand total of $619. (Rush My Passport also offers slightly slower services — next-day, priority, rush, standard, and rush renewal — and these are all cheaper.)
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Passport?
The total cost will vary slightly depending on which passport acceptance facility you use and how soon you need it.
If you’re not in a rush and apply at one of the USPS locations that provide passport services, you can expect to pay approximately $160. This includes:
- a $35 acceptance fee
- a $110 application fee for a passport book
- a $15 fee for photos (unless you take your own passport photos)
If you need it within the next eight weeks, there is an additional $60 fee if you need to expedite your application
- an additional $16.48 for 1-2 day delivery (if needed)
Do I Really Need One to Go to Canada or Mexico?
We know what you’re thinking: What if you’re only going to Canada? Or Mexico? Or the Bahamas? You may have heard that you don’t need to get a passport to visit those places. And while that may have been true a decade or two ago, now you need a passport to go anywhere that’s not U.S. turf.
Dipping into Tijuana from San Diego? You need one. Walking across the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls? You need one. Sailing to Bermuda on a raft made from empty milk jugs? You need one. And a friend who can talk you out of bad ideas.
There are a few exceptions. You should be able to travel to the following U.S. territories without a passport (though you’ll still need ID):
- U.S. Virgin Islands (including St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix)
- Puerto Rico
- American Samoa
- Northern Mariana Islands
If you’re on a cruise that starts and ends in the United States, you should be able to visit ports of call without one — even if they’re not on the list above — though you should always double check with the cruise line.
Also, you don’t need a passport to travel to Hawaii or Alaska. Those are states. We know you know that, but when you Google “do I need a passport,” Hawaii is, like, the third thing that comes up, so here we are.
When Should I Renew Mine?
If you’ve already been there, done that, and gotten the stamps to prove it, you’re good for a decade. But keep in mind it’s best to renew yours a few months before it expires. It takes time to process the application, and you don’t want to be stuck without a valid one when your best friend invites you to tag along on her “business trip” to Tokyo.
Also, many countries require your passport to be valid for six months past your arrival date. So if you’re skiing in Austria for a week in December, but your passport expires in February, you may find yourself stuck in the U.S. We hear the Poconos are lovely.
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