Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Although I dreamed of international travel for most of my life, I was 38 years old before I obtained my first passport. I mistakenly believed that the process would be expensive and tedious, and I honestly never thought I would have the means or the opportunity to travel internationally especially as the single parent of a then 12-year-old daughter. Determined to break this cycle of thinking, I applied for my and my daughter’s passport at the same time my mother obtained her first passport, in 2003 three generations embarked on our first international trip.
Understanding how to obtain, renew and travel with your US Passport is the very first step before taking your next (or first) global adventure. If you need to dust off an expired passport or to obtain your first US Passport, no need to worry the process is quite simple and very well detailed on The Department of State’s US Passports and International Travel Site. Before you start the process make sure you check the travel document requirements for the country you intend to visit.
Complete the application for a new passport or renewal
New Passport, print out the completed form and take it to a passport acceptance agency (typically a US Post Office with Passport services) along with required identification documents
Passport Renewal applications can be mailed without an in-person appointment along with expiring passport. However, I chose to renew at the US Post Office, I felt less anxious giving my identification documents to a live person as opposed to dropping them in the mail.
Passport Book or Passport Card?
Which citizenship travel document is best for you?
Passport Cards - Although Passport Cards are convenient, cheaper and often recommended for travel by cruise ship or to border countries, they are not accepted as travel documentation for any international flights. Even though passport cards can be used at U.S. land and sea ports of entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, most cruise lines still encourage passengers to obtain passport books in case of an emergency requiring air transport home. All other cruise travel originating outside of the US requires a Passport Book.
Passport Books - Are the preferred proof of citizenship and identity for international travel since they are accepted as entry documents on all forms of global transportation.
Standard or Expedited Service?
Last Minute Getaway or Planning Ahead
In a perfect world, you should apply for your first passport or send off your renewal, months before you start travel planning, however this may not always be practical. If your passport expires in 6 months or less, it is time to renew, most countries require that you have 3 valid months from your scheduled travel date, but some countries require at least 6 months. If you don’t have enough valid time on your passport, you won’t be able to board your flight .
If you are fortunate enough to have a long planning cycle, you can use the standard passport processing service which takes about 4-6 weeks and is the most cost-effective route. That said, personally, I prefer a quicker turnaround time and I hate to have my passport out of my site for too long, for these reasons and despite the additional fees, I choose to use the 3-week expedited service through the US Post Office.
Although I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute, if you find yourself with just a week or so before your flight, you can still have your passport processed through the expedited services offered at the closest passport acceptance agency or through a private passport courier service. Using this expedited service is less convenient and bit more expensive, but in a pinch you can typically get your passport renewed and in your possession in less than a week.
Typical US Passport Processing Times
Routine 4-6 Weeks
Expedited 2-3 Weeks (passport acceptance agency or via mail)
Expedited at Agency 8 Business Days*
Passport Courier Service – varies (may be as quick as 24 hours)
US Passport fees and delivery times
Many countries require both a visa and a passport for entry, if you need both, timing will be a huge factor, since a valid passport must be mailed along with most visa applications
Tips for Traveling with your Passport
Download the authorized Mobile Passport App -
This official app allows you to speed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Make paper copies of your passport. Exchange copies with travel companions
Email a color scan of your passport to yourself and to a couple of contacts at home.
Download a copy of your passport on to your mobile phone or tablet.
Most hotels will want to copy your passport, some ask to hold onto it at check-in, Always decline leaving your passport and give them one of the paper copies you are traveling with instead.
Always carry your passport with you in an internal handbag pocket or travel wallet, do not leave it in the hotel room. There are many unpredictable reasons you may need to use the passport for proof of citizenship, it’s better to have it with you. If you choose to leave it in the safe in the hotel room, make sure you always at least have a paper copy.
If you travel by train or ferry, never store your passport in a bag that is stowed away from you.
According to Conde Nast Traveler you should also protect passport from the weather. Rain and humidity can ruin passport pages.
If your passport is lost, stolen or if it is damaged, immediately reach out to the US Embassy or Consulate for a replacement as soon as possible. Be aware that the Embassy may not be available after typical office hours or on weekends or holidays.
Get out there and start collecting those Stamps!