If you’ve started to think once again about international travel, a concrete planning step you can take is to make sure your passport is up to date.
After a COVID-related halt during the first part of 2020, the United States Department of State is once again processing passport applications and renewals and has worked its way through the resulting backlog, making it the perfect time to get yours in order. Here are a few things to keep in mind about the process, plus some tips to save you hassle and stress.
1. Do It Now
If your passport has expired — or is getting close to that expiration date — don’t sleep on getting it renewed. Keep in mind that most countries require you to have at least six months left on your passport to cross their borders. Taking care of this now, before you even start planning your next adventure, ensures that when you decide that it is indeed time to hit the road again, you’ll be ready to roll. You’ll also need a current passport before applying for any additional visas that might be required for your upcoming dream destination. Bottom line: Don’t let this wait!
2. Completing The Form Is Simple
The great news about renewing your passport is that it’s a relative snap. As long as your passport is less than 15 years old and isn’t damaged beyond typical wear and tear, all you’ll need to do is complete the DS-82 form, which can be found online. It’s simple: Just supply the necessary and rather basic information, and you’ll be set. Either type the answers onto the form directly on your computer and print it off (the easiest option), or print the blank form and fill it out by hand.
Unlike the first time you applied for your passport, you won’t need additional documents, and you won’t need to renew in person except in case of an emergency — more on that in a bit.
3. Don’t Forget To Sign
Word to the wise: Don’t forget to sign your DS-82. It can be easy to miss the signature line at the bottom, but if you do, your passport will be shipped back to you, and you’ll have to start the entire process over again. It’s frustrating because it’s a no-brainer and an enormous time-waster. Trust me, and learn from my mistake on this one!
4. Get Everything Together
Once you’ve filled out and signed your DS-82, it’s time to compile everything else you’ll need for your application.
While you don’t have to renew in person, you will need to send in your current or expired passport as part of the application process, along with two new passport photos. Do not try to take your own photos — have them taken professionally. Yes, it will cost you between $15 and $20, but there are many specific rules about size, framing, and what you’re wearing that you won’t want to leave to chance.
Keep in mind that you have two options for processing. Normal service will cost you $110 and will take between 10 and 12 weeks. Expedited service will cut that time in half but will cost you an extra $60. Once you’ve got your old passport, new photos, and check or money order assembled, keep in mind two additional things before sealing and sending your parcel to the State Department.
First, it’s a really good idea to take a picture or scan a copy of your passport for your records in the unlikely event that something happens to it in transit or on its way back to you. You probably don’t have your passport number committed to memory, and a screenshot is better than nothing when it comes to proving that the document once existed should it somehow get lost.
Second, while the State Department is typically very good at sending back your previous passport with your new version, be sure to write a quick note expressly asking them to do so. For many of us, our old passports are treasured travel souvenirs — the stamps a reminder of all the fabulous places we’ve been in the past. However, for other travelers, getting a passport back is a necessity. That’s because a handful of countries issue long-term (and rather expensive) tourist visas as permanent pages in your passport. Though tempting, you cannot remove the visa and just stick it in your new passport; you’ll have to travel with both documents. That’s why a personal note with a gentle reminder that you would like (or need) your old passport back is, in my opinion, a must-include with the packet you send off to the State Department.
5. Make Sure Your Materials Are Secure
While the State Department does offer online status checks (more on those in a moment), it’s a good idea to make sure you’re sending off your renewal materials in a method that includes shipping status and insurance. That way, you can be positive that everything has arrived safely and securely. Also, consider enclosing as part of your packet a prepaid premium envelope addressed to you so that you can also follow the status of your new passport once it’s been issued and is on its way back. Just make sure that you keep the tracking numbers for both your parcel and the return envelope.
The bottom line: Your passport is one of the most important ID documents you possess. Plan to spend the extra money to upgrade your shipping method to get it to and from the State Department. It will give you peace of mind, and it will also help ensure your passport won’t get lost in the transit shuffle!
6. Check On The Status Of Your Application
The State Department does a nice job of keeping you informed about where in the process your renewal is, and when you might expect to see your new passport. It’s as simple as going online, reading and signing off on a quick privacy statement, and then entering your last name, date of birth, and the last four digits of your social security number. A screen will then pop up, displaying when your passport was received, its current status, and when you might expect to receive the updated version.
You will also receive an application locator number — take note of it. Having it handy will be important in the unlikely event that your documents go missing, or in case of a longer delay.
7. You’ve Got A Surefire Option In Case Of An Emergency
Even if you opt to upgrade to the expedited service currently available, you still shouldn’t expect to receive your passport back for a few weeks. So, what if you’re truly facing down an international travel emergency — perhaps even a dire family situation? Right now, you’ve got one surefire option. It’s hardly stress-free or inexpensive, but it will get the job done.
You’ll need to get online to book an in-person visit to a passport agency. These offices are part of the State Department. Restrictions do apply, there are a limited number of appointments available at each office, and you will have to show proof of international travel in the next 72 hours, such as a flight itinerary or hotel reservation. You’ll pay the extra $60 fee, and if you don’t live in a city with a passport agency, you’ll need to be prepared to travel to the closest one. You’ll be cutting it close, but going in person should ensure you’ll have everything ready to go before your trip.
In the past, outside expediting services could also be used to help manage last-minute passport requests. While they certainly save time and hassle, they are not cheap. What’s more, not all are even offering emergency services right now. You’ll want to call ahead if you think this is an option you’d like to explore.
If you’re already envisioning a return to international travel (and aren’t we all?), now is the time to get your passport renewed. It will be a relief to have it ready as additional countries begin accepting American travelers and when you feel safe and comfortable enough to get back out there! Why wait?
The good news is that renewals are once again being processed, and getting the chore squared away isn’t especially difficult. That said, you’re going to need time, patience, and a bit of prepwork to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. Remember, the devil is in the details, so check and double-check to make sure you’ve included all necessary documents and signed your form before sending everything off.
Online monitoring is easy, so you can ensure the State Department receives your old passport, track where it is in process, and get updates as to when you should expect the new one to hit your mailbox. If any complications or questions come up, you can also call to check in at (877) 487-2778 or email NPIC@state.gov.