Yes, the COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly turned the world of international travel upside down in 2020. However, U.S. State Department officials say now is a good time for Americans to renew an expired passport or apply for a new one.
Currently, it takes about 10-12 weeks to process a passport, from the time of application to delivery in the mail. That’s up from the 6-8 weeks it typically took pre-COVID. The centers where passport processors work have been opening gradually and applications are being handled in the order they arrive.
I know many of us are looking ahead to 2021, with the hopes & prayers that we can begin to safely resume travel abroad, whether for business or pleasure. So, it’s never too early to start your preparation. First, 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 2021, why not apply now. Passports are good for 10 years and you will save money and stress by not waiting until the last minute. It costs $110 to renew a passport when you use the routine service. However, if you need to use the expedited service, you will pay an additional $60 per application.
Helpful Tips for Renewing Your U.S. Passport
Before COVID, the State Department would recommend applying for a passport during the off-peak months of September to December. So, just another reason why this is a great time to do so!
The U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs passport website is easy to use, well organized, and filled with great information.
Important Passport Considerations
- Parents may not realize or forget their child’s passport (for those under age 16) is valid for only 5 years, unlike the 10 years for adult passports.
- 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 2-4 pages), so you need to make sure your passport has adequate blank pages for the entry or exit stamps.
- Starting in 2016, it is no longer possible to pay for the insertion of additional visa pages into your current U.S. passport. 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.
- Several years ago, they began issuing passports with just 28 pages as the standard, down from the prior 52 pages. Luckily, it’s free to request a 52-page passport – just check the “Large Book” box on the application form (see below).
Renewing Your Passport – By Mail
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 website for full instructions). For adults, a first-time passport costs $145 (application fee of $110 plus execution fee of $35), while passport renewals cost $110.
Current Processing Times for a Passport
(as listed on the State Department website – October 2020)
- Routine 10-12 Weeks
- Expedited 4-6 Weeks
- Expedited at Agency Limited appointments (must have international travel within 72 hours)
Here’s What You’ll Need for a Renewal Application
The U.S. Passport Renewal Application form DS-82 – which you can get at the post office or download off the U.S. Department of State passport website.
- If desired, make sure to check the box for the 52-page “Large Book (Non-Standard)” at the top of the first page. (photo right)
- Your most recent and fully-valid U.S. passport.
- If your name has changed, you must submit appropriate documentation.
- The current passport fee ($110 for a renewal) – which can be paid by personal check or money order.
- A recent color photograph (one 2×2 passport photo) – more info below.
Once assembled, take the completed package to your local post office to mail to the National Passport Processing Center – to either the one in Philadelphia, PA or Irving, TX (depending on where you live).
When I mailed my passport renewal package in 2016, I used Priority Mail. It was the least expensive method that still gave me tracking – important for something as valuable as a passport! It only cost $6.45 at that time.
Passport Photos – Important Tips
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.
About Passport Photos
- Needs to be a color photo in the standard passport size of 2×2 inches
- Needs to be a recent photo, taken within the last 6 months, to reflect your current appearance
- No glasses allowed in the photo
- 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 the “Do You Have a Picture Perfect Passport” article.
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. Be warned, the passport office does not want selfies!
For my passport 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 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 very convenient to get extra passport-size photos at the same time.
I find it helpful to have extra passport size photos on hand for any future visa applications (which want these type of photos) or whenever you travel internationally. I always carry a couple extra photos on all my trips, for the very occasional times I might need one.
These can include “visa on arrival” applications or even a SIM card application (which I needed in Nepal). Or in a worst case scenario, if you lose your passport while traveling and need to apply for a new one at the local U.S. consulate.
SOME FINAL HUMOR
When I got my passport photos done & 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.”
COMMENTS: Have you recently applied for a U.S. passport? How was your experience? Any tips to share?
Karen Pray says
HI Janet !
Just a little FYI–In the past 3 months, 3 of my clients have renewed their passports. Each of them were pleasantly surprised by the 6 week turnaround. One client did not get the old one back….she’s hoping to get it separately.
Planet Janet says
Thanks, Karen for the good, real world update. That is good news indeed! And, yes, we all want to keep our old passports as wonderful souvenirs of our past travel experiences. I have always gotten my old ones back, and separately. So, hopefully your client will, as well!
Richard Greyson says
Hope all’s well with you. I’d give a passport time to renew more than three months based on my experience getting my Sentri pass renewed before the Croatia trip. It takes longer for a Sentri than a regular Global Entry renewal, but it took 8 or 9 months to get this done. Passports should be easier, but I’d plan on 4-6 months to not be caught short. Government services have been whittled down to afterthoughts, and it will take a long time to get them back up to speed.
Planet Janet says
Thanks, Richard for the warning. Yes, COVID has disrupted all aspects of our lives & business. As you know, passports are issued by the US Department of State and the SENTRI passes & Global Entry are done by the US Customs & Border Protection (CBD). Hopefully, the State dept agency is more efficient than CBD. I was also in the process of renewing my 5-year Global Entry when COVID hit & the centers closed and are now greatly backlogged!