Passports Step-by-Step

Expert Tips

Are you planning a trip abroad soon? If so, consider securing or renewing your passport sooner rather than later! It is essential to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get your passport before you need it, especially if you are planning to travel internationally.

Also – know this – for most international travel, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of your return to the United States.

Read that again. You need a 6-month cushion before your expiration date to travel internationally. So, take a look at your passport now and set a reminder in your calendar.

The U.S. State Department is dealing with a massive backlog of applications, and passport processing times have been extended. In 2022, the State Department issued nearly 22 million passports, which was the highest number on record. This year, the number is expected to increase even more.

Right now, the State Department receives about 500,000 passport applications each week. That number represents a 30 percent increase over the same time last year.

Nothing like prohibiting travel to promote travel, eh? 

What does that mean for you? You’ll have to wait longer than usual to get a passport or get the one you have renewed. 

The good news is that while borders may divide us, travel unites us. I’m all for this trend! 

On March 24th, 2023, the State Department noted they are processing routine applications in 10-13 weeks and expedited applications in 7-9 weeks. 

And then they added an important note:: Processing times begin when they get your application at a passport agency or center and do not include mailing times. And then it may take up to 2 weeks for them to get your application after you mail it and up to 2 weeks for you to receive your completed passport after we send it to you.

That adds another month to the process. So you’re looking at at least five months for a regular renewal and three months for an expedited renewal.  

The U.S. government is taking numerous actions to address the backlog:

  1. They’ve aggressively recruited and hired across our passport agencies and centers.
  2. Their staff contributes tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month to issue the millions of passports requested.
  3. They’ve opened a satellite office to help process the influx of applications.
  4. They’ve created a task force to figure out how to be more agile and responsive to future demand.

And did you know there are passport books and passport cards? A passport book is what we traditionally think of as a passport. In 2008, the U.S. began issuing U.S. passport cards to meet the needs of U.S. citizens who travel from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries by land or sea. You can not use a passport card for other international air travel; it is a cheaper alternative to the passport book.

Here are the steps to get your passport :: 

1 | Fill Out Your Form

You will need to meet one of these criteria for your first passport or to go through the “new” passport process. 

  • I am applying for my first U.S. passport.
  • I am applying with my child, who is under the age of 16.
  • My previous U.S. passport was issued when I was under the age of 16.
  • My previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • My previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago.

The proper form is Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport. You can fill out the form online or print it and complete it by hand.

For a renewal of your passport, you need to meet these criteria :: 

  • I can submit your old one with your application.
  • It is not damaged (other than normal wear and tear).
  • You have never reported it lost or stolen.
  • It was issued within the last 15 years.
  • It was issued when I was age 16 or older.
  • It was issued in my current name, or I can provide another document, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree, that is evidence of my name change.
  • It was not limited to less than the usual 10-year period of validity for an adult passport due to multiple passport thefts or losses or due to issues with passport damage or mutilation. 

Apply in person using Form DS-82 to submit by mail. 

2 | Gather Your Necessary Documents

You will need to provide a few documents to prove your identity, citizenship, and residency, such as

  • Full validity, undamaged U.S. passport (expired passports are accepted). Full validity means the document is/was valid for ten years for adults and five years for children under 16.
  • U.S. birth certificate that meets the following requirements:
    • Issued by the city, county, or state of birth
    • Lists your full name, date of birth, and place of birth
    • Lists your parent(s)’ full names
    • Has the date filed with the registrar’s office (must be within one year of birth)
    • Has the registrar’s signature
    • Has the seal of the issuing authority
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
  • Certificate of Naturalization 
  • Certificate of Citizenship

3 | Get Your Photo Taken

You can take a passport photo at most drugstores, or you can have it taken at a passport acceptance facility, but your photo must fit these requirements ::

  • Submit one color photo taken in the last six months.
  • Use a clear image of your face. Do not use filters commonly used on social media.
  • Have someone else take your photo. No selfies.
  • Take off your eyeglasses for your image.
  • Use a white or off-white background without shadows, texture, or lines.

4 | Pay the Fee

Passport fees vary depending on the type of passport you need and how quickly you need it. Standard processing takes about 4-6 weeks, and expedited processing is available for an additional fee. You can find the current costs on the U.S. Department of State website.  

For a passport book, the price is $130.

For a passport card, the price is $30.

For both a passport book and a card, the price is $160.

Then there is a $35 execution fee. And expedited service is $60. 

Here is the official fee chart. And the fee calculator

5 | Submit your Application

You can submit your application in person at a passport acceptance facility, a post office, a courthouse, or other government offices. You must bring your completed application, required documents, passport photo, and fee payment.

6 | Wait. Wait. And Wait Some More.

After submitting your application, you must wait for it to be processed. After that, you can check the status of your application online. Once your passport is ready, you can pick it up in person or mail it to you.

Here is the official U.S. State Department page. This link is where to start if you must change your name or replace your passport.

Note that you can still renew your passport by mail or make appointments at passport acceptance facilities, including post offices, libraries, and local government offices. However, appointments are limited, and some applicants have traveled to another city to snag one. Washington, DC, is home to one of the most accessible passport offices in the United States, and read below for our super secret tip.

Need a Passport Urgently??

So, suppose you’re in a jam and screwed up because you’ve not looked at your passport recently and realize you have less than six months of validity on it. What can you do? 

We have a partner you can help. There’s a cost (budget $600-$1000). And know that they need at least 4-5 days to pull it off. If you have five days, the cost is less than if you have three. 

We have had clients who’ve succeeded through the official channels with our guidance. So here is the official advice on how to get a passport quickly. The number to call for an appointment is 1-877-487-2778. It says on the site that you’ll speak with a customer service rep, but we know you’ll get further if you ask to talk to a desk officer. And only a few people know this factoid, but the best time to call is at 1 or 2 AM ET because that’s when they release appointments for the next day!

The passport office in D.C. is among the most accessible in the USA. The direct phone number is 202-647-4000 to get an appointment in D.C. The best time to call for a meeting there is right after 3 PM ET, and again to speak with a desk officer to try and secure an appointment the next day.

As a last resort, you can appeal to your congressional representative’s office in your state. They can get appointments too. It works. It’s what your congressional representative is there for – to help constituents in a jam.

Once you have scored the Holy Grail – an appointment – you must show proof of travel. Proof of travel is one of two options :: 

  • a flight itinerary from a commercial airline, or 
  • a letter on business letterhead stating you are flying internationally and privately.

Just as an example, I had a client just before Christmas who realized on a Tuesday night that his passport had expired and he was leaving that Friday morning. Three of us were calling non-stop Wednesday to get him a passport appointment anywhere in the country and somehow succeeded. He flew the next day to that city, got it Thursday, and flew home Friday morning. That timeline was too tight for me to help him through my industry partner. The timeline was just too close, and no money could solve the dilemma! 

If you must travel imminently within 14 days, you can book an in-person appointment at a passport agency or contact us. We have networks to help you get your passport just in time for your exciting travels!


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