Excited to have a vacation on the horizon, I bought airline tickets for a trip out of the country recently. To my shock, the airline alerted me that my passport would expire before my trip. Suddenly, I needed to move fast to get the passport renewed.
There’s been a big demand for passports in recent years, with the growth of overseas travel. “In 1990, only 5 percent of Americans had a passport. Today, that number is 48 percent,” the State Department says. For a time the agency fell behind its goal of processing applications within six to eight weeks for routine applications, although it says that it has caught up now.
Besides the routine approach for renewing a passport, there are three other, faster ways to renew: expedited, urgent and emergency. Each has rules, fees and processing times.
Read on to learn about your options to renew a passport, including official routes (click the timelines for details) and how to speed up a renewal application that’s already in the system. We also look briefly at private companies — couriers and expediters not affiliated with the government — that claim to process passport renewals quickly.
Routine passport renewal timeline
- Time left before travel: Eight weeks or more
- Fees: Passport book, $130; passport card (not good for international air travel), $30. Postage not included. Optional one- to two-day delivery service, $19.53, is available for passport books only.
Submit a routine renewal application if you’re not in a rush. Routine processing time is six to eight weeks, not including mailing.
According to a hotline agent I spoke with, you can either renew by mail or make an appointment with a passport agency near you. (For now, a trial online system has been paused.) Download and complete Form DS-82, or use the online Form Filler Tool and print the completed form at home.
As you’d expect, government forms and rules can be fussy. This link explains how to apply, including how to take a good photo. Children under age 16 aren’t eligible to renew using Form DS-82. Instead, use Form DS-11 and apply in person. You can get help — no charge — filling out forms, answering questions and assembling your application at one of many official passport acceptance facilities (including post offices, libraries and some local government offices).
1. Expedited passport renewal
- Time left before travel: Less than eight weeks
- Fees: $60 expediting fee on top of application fee
Submit your expedited renewal application by mail or in person at a passport acceptance facility. Processing time (not including mailing) is two to three weeks.
Here’s how I made my expedited renewal application:
- On advice from the National Passport Information Center hotline (1-877-487-2778), I took my completed application, regulation passport photos, old passport and a check for the application and processing fees to a U.S. Post Office. The passport hotline is open weekdays 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- I put everything in a USPS’ Priority Mail Express envelope, since I was in a hurry to receive my renewed passport. I called the passport hotline, and they advised using the one- to two-day delivery service for an additional fee.
- My new passport arrived in two weeks, quicker than I’d dared hope. My old passport was returned separately.
Using USPS Priority Mail Express was a great tip from the hotline. Otherwise, an application can spend up to two weeks in the mail to the passport agency; and your new passport could spend another two weeks in the return mail.
2. Urgent passport renewal
- Time left before travel: Two to three weeks
- Fees: $60 expediting fee on top of application fee
For urgent travel (if you’re traveling within 14 days or if you need a foreign visa within four weeks), you can skip the mail and make an appointment (no charge) online to visit a passport agency or center. It’s OK to make your appointment as many as 14 days in advance, but the appointment itself must fall within five calendar days of your departure. No specific processing time is given for urgent applications.
One hitch: “Appointments are limited and we cannot guarantee one will be available,” the State Department says. Walk-ins are not accepted.
3. Emergency passport renewal
Time left before travel: Three business days (72 hours)
Fees: $60 expediting fee on top of application fee
This category of renewals is reserved for a life-or-death emergency that requires international travel. You’ll need an appointment. It’s OK to book the appointment as far as two weeks in advance but the appointment itself must be within three business days of your international travel.
Before making the appointment you’ll need to document the emergency. Here’s how to apply for an emergency passport renewal. Bring proof of travel to your appointment.
The emergency provision is for a documented “life-or-death” emergency involving an immediate family member (not aunt, uncle, cousin, or other relative) outside of the United States who:
- Has died
- Is dying (in hospice care)
- Has a life-threatening injury or illness
Upgrading a passport application already in the system
If you’ve already submitted a passport renewal application but need to travel sooner than you’d thought, you can apply to upgrade your application.
The State Department explains how to proceed if you’ve already got an application in the system and have urgent travel. Call the passport hotline for instructions.
Are couriers and expediters worth it?
Some people, hoping to move quickly and willing to spend more money, use private courier and expediter companies. Such companies are not affiliated with the government, despite what some may say or imply.
A service may promise fast service for an additional fee. But with an outside service, “you will not receive your passport faster than applying at one of our passport agencies,” the State Department says.
Some services may offer to wait in line for you, mail your documents or make an appointment on your behalf. But the State Department doesn’t charge for appointments and says, “If you are asked to pay for an appointment, you should consider the request to be fraudulent.”
The State Department doesn’t back promises from private companies or guarantee documents’ safety in the hands of couriers and expediters.
Also, scammers sometimes pose as passport expediters and courier companies. Experian, the credit agency, tells how to protect yourself from passport scams. The State Department also maintains a list of registered couriers.