Passports are essential documents for traveling in today’s world. A U.S. passport proves your identity as a United States citizen, and it allows you to travel around the globe. Therefore, it’s important that you keep your passport up to date, and it’s also important that you make sure it’s always safe.
Anyone who is traveling internationally will need a passport – even children. However, the rules are a little different for children under the age of 16. While adults renew their passports every 10 years, children must get their passports renewed every five years.
Here’s a look at some of the basics of what you need to know if you’re getting ready to renew or replace your passport.
When should I renew my passport?
It’s easier than ever to renew or replace your passport. Since the forms you need to submit are available online, in many cases you can simply print them out, complete them and mail them in. Always allow plenty of time for renewing a passport. It takes approximately six weeks from the time you apply until you receive your passport. But be sure to allow extra time if it’s a busier time – such as the summer travel or, in case of unforeseen circumstances, periods of natural disasters -- that could slow down the processing time.
If you are trying to renew a passport and have less than six weeks until your travel date, the U.S. Department of State recommends you choose an expedited service, which will cost an additional $60 but ensures you receive the passport in three weeks or less.
What’s the process for renewing my passport?
Renewing your passport is a pretty straightforward process; whether doing it by mail or in person, you can start by going online and determining which type of passport you need (new, renewal, child, replacement, name change or adding pages).
Keep in mind that if your passport has expired or if your passport was issued when you were 15 or younger, you’ll need to apply for a new passport, not a renewal. You can find the correct forms on the federal government’s site and choose which form is right for your situation.
However, if you are under the age of 16, you will need to apply in person, but can access the necessary form, DS-11, online.
After you’ve filled out the correct form, you can submit your application by mail, only if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You are able to submit your previous passport with your application
- Your previous passport is undamaged (normal wear is acceptable)
- You have the same name you had at the time that passport was issued or can provide a legal document. that documents your name change
- You are 16 years or older
When mailing in your application, calculate the fees and send a check or money order made out to U.S. Department of State. In person, you can pay for your passport using a credit or debit card, cash, check or money order. If you want or need to complete the process in person, you will visit a passport acceptance facility or a regional passport agency. The best way to do this is using the National Passport Information Center, calling 877-487-2778 and making an appointment at the facility nearest you.
You can fill out the forms in advance, but wait to sign the paperwork until you are instructed to do so by the agent at the facility. The fees to renew or replace a passport vary depending upon the situation and how quickly you need it returned
How do I get a passport photo?
The U.S. Department of State has specific photo requirements that must be followed carefully. In 2015, the Department received more than 200,000 photos that it considered unacceptable. If your photo does not meet the criteria, it can’t be used as a passport photo.
Anything that obscures the face, whether it’s shadows, glare on your glasses or a hat, will make your photo unacceptable.
What do I do if my passport is lost or stolen?
If your passport has been lost or stolen, it’s important you report it immediately. you must also visit a passport agency in person to replace your passport. Once you report a passport as being lost or stolen, it can no longer be used, even if you find it. This is done to protect you from identity theft.
If your passport is lost or stolen while you are traveling outside the U.S., you’ll need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to replace it.
Even if you aren’t planning on traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to keep your passport up to date in case your plans change. Making sure you allow plenty of time for passport renewal and replacement and purchasing a travel insurance policy are two of the most important things you can do to help ensure that you can get where you want to go.