Thinking about taking an international trip next year? Have you checked the expiration date on your passport? And what about your family members or traveling companions? If it turns out any of your passports expire in 2017, I want to share some compelling reasons to renew your passport soon – plus some other helpful tips.
My passport also expires next year (October 2017). Because of what I learned, I just mailed off my own passport renewal this week. The State Department’s “Apply Early” passport initiative states: Plan Now. Avoid Stressful Travel Later. I think these are wise words for us travelers.
Why The Urgency / Passport Activity in 2017
There has been an increasingly strong demand for U.S. passports in recent years, and it continues to grow. The State Department is currently expecting a real surge in new and renewed passport applications through 2018.
They encountered the first huge surge in applications in 2007, issuing over 18 million passports that year. That was due, in large part, to the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initative – which required U.S. citizens to have passports for travel to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.
So, in 2017, with passports being good for 10 years, they are expecting another massive surge in renewals. A recent article in Outside Magazine reported that this influx could cause wait times for passport renewals to jump to ten or more weeks, up from an average of six weeks, throughout 2017. Wow, that’s potentially up to a 3-month wait time!
In addition, you will save money by planning ahead. It costs $110 to renew a passport when you use the routine service (4-6 weeks processing time). However, if you are time-crunched and need to use the expedited service (2-3 weeks processing time), you will pay an additional $60 per application.
Other Important Passport Considerations
- Keep in mind that many countries require your U.S. passport to be valid at least six months past your dates of travel. If it is less than that, you could be denied boarding (of your outbound flight) or even turned around at customs. How tragic would that be?!
- Some countries have also instituted blank-page minimums for entry (such as two pages), so you need to make sure your passport has adequate blank pages for the entry or exit stamps.
- Be sure also to check your traveling companion’s passport expiration dates, because they can differ from yours.
- In particular, parents may forget or not realize their child’s passport is only valid for 5 years – unlike 10 years for adult passports. (The 5-year passports are for children under age 16).
- As of January 1, 2016, it is no longer possible to pay for the insertion of additional visa pages into your current U.S. passport (like I did last year). Now, if you fill up all your pages, you will need to get a whole new passport – even if it’s well in advance of the expiration date.
- They have now begun issuing passports with just 28 pages as the standard, down from 52 pages in the recent past. Luckily, it’s free to request a 52-page passport (by simply checking a box on the application form). You may want to do that, just to be safe.
Renewing Your Passport – By Mail
The State Department recommends applying for a passport, if possible, during the off-peak months – which are September to December. So, if you are one of the many 2017 passport expirees like me, now is a very good time to renew.
In most cases, you can do your passport renewal by mail – and it’s easy to do. However, first time applicants need to apply in person (see the website for full instructions). A first-time passport costs $145 for adults and $115 for minors, while passport renewals cost $110. (Note: Prices updated – 5/8/19)
Processing Times for a Passport (currently listed on the State Department website – as of Nov. 2016)
- Routine 4-6 Weeks
- Expedited 2-3 Weeks
- Expedited at Agency 5 Business Days
Here’s what you will need for your renewal application:
- The U.S. Passport Renewal Application form (2 pages) – which you can get at any post office or download off the State Dept. website.
- Make sure to check the box for the “Large Book (Non-Standard)” at the top of the first page (if desired)
- Your most recent and fully-valid U.S. passport
- If your name has changed, you must submit appropriate documentation
- The current $110 passport fee – which can be paid by personal check
- A recent color photograph (one 2×2 passport photo) – more info below
Once assembled, you can take your completed package of items to your local post office to mail to the National Passport Processing Center in Philadelphia. When I mailed my renewal package, I used Priority Mail (the least expensive method that still gave me tracking – important for something as valuable as a passport!).
Helpful Hints About Passport Photos
Bad photos are the #1 reason passport applications are delayed during the application process. In 2015, the office received more than 200,000 unacceptable passport photos. So, here are some tips to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
- Needs to be a color photo in the standard passport size of 2×2 inches
- Needs to be a recent photo, taken in the last 6 months, to reflect your current appearance
- No glasses allowed in the photo – this new rule just went into effect Nov. 1, 2016
- There are other very specific rules about the photo background, composition, type of paper, etc. so be sure to check out the Photo Requirements on the passport website
- You may also want to read their Picture Perfect Passport article
Where To Get Your Passport Photos
You can have your passport photos taken at one of the retail locations that offer this service, like a CVS Pharmacy or Walgreen’s photo department or FedEx Office (a few options in my city). Or you can take your own photo – if you have the patience and digital know-how to follow all the rules. However, the passport office does not want selfies!
For my recent photos, I used one of the retail services, which usually includes a set of 2 passport photos for an initial fee. I called around to a couple places to compare prices because they do differ. Be sure to ask if they offer additional sets of photos for a reduced fee (like $5 for each extra set of 2). That makes it really convenient to get some extra photos to have on hand.
You can use these extra passport photos for any future visa applications (which want these size photos). I always carry a couple extra photos on all my international trips for the very occasional times I might need one – such as “visas on arrival” or even a SIM card application (which I needed in Nepal). Or in the worst case scenario, if you lose your passport while traveling and need to apply for a new one at the local U.S. consulate.
Main Passport Website: U.S. Department of State Passports & International Travel
As mentioned, I had my passport photos done earlier this week. When I saw the final (oh, so attractive – NOT!) results, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite quotes from Erma Bombeck from many years ago. It’s still a classic and oh, so true! Enjoy…
“When you look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.”