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Traveling abroad? Before you pack your suitcase and get off the plane, you’ll need to collect your passport. But getting a passport, whether you’re applying for your first or renewing your travel companion with ears and stamps, can be a complicated process.
“A lot of people tend to put it off,” says Zach Honig, editor-at-large for The Points Guy, a travel advice website. But Honig adds that it’s “definitely worth the effort.”
How To Apply For A Us Passport
So how do you get a passport? Can you do it online or do you have to go to a passport agency? What is included in the passport application? How and when will you renew your passport? Can you keep your old passport when you get a new one? Let’s break it down step by step and situation by situation.
How To Fill Out The Ds 11: Application For A U.s. Passport
But the first step is universal for almost everyone. For starters, you’ll need to find an official passport acceptance facility (usually a post office, public library, or local office that processes passport applications on behalf of the State Department) to begin the process. To make the process go as smoothly as possible, you need an extensive list of completed documents.
It can seem like a lot of paperwork, so “double and triple check that you have all the necessary documents and, if you can, make an appointment in advance,” suggests Lonely Planet destination editor Sarah Stocking.
How long does it take to get a passport? The State Department estimates that it takes four to six weeks to process a passport (including the time it takes to send it back), so allow yourself plenty of time, especially in the spring when most people are busy. Summer tourist season.
If the thought of catching an international flight with a passport that’s about to expire worries you, allow yourself plenty of time to renew (the government recommends renewing your passport nine months before it expires). Unlike the process of getting your first passport, you do not need to go to an official facility in person. Instead, you can send all your passport renewal documents. This means if you have your old passport in decent condition outside of normal wear, it was issued when you were over 16 and within the last 15 years and your name hasn’t changed. If you can check them all, you will need to include the following information in the mail to renew your passport:
How To Apply For A United States Passport
If you have changed your name since you got your last passport, you can attach official proof of your name change, such as a marriage certificate, divorce certificate or a court-ordered name change document.
How long does it take to renew a passport? After submitting all of the above information, it usually takes four to six weeks – just like the first passport – from the day you submit your application by post to receive your new passport. World travelers with plenty of passport stamps to hang on their old passports as souvenirs should know that old passports do come back (usually with a hole in the cover), but MaSovaida Morgan, Lonely Planet’s South America editor, recommends tapping on the sticky piece of paper. Just to be sure, note on the envelope that you would definitely like to return your old copy.
If you do not have your old passport, you will need to treat your passport renewal as a first passport application, by filling out a DS-11 form and coming to a passport processing facility in person.
Do you think you are clear about renewing your passport? Come back here “because you can’t necessarily travel until your passport expires,” explains Trisha Ping, Lonely Planet’s Eastern US editor. In fact, “many countries will not allow you to enter if your passport’s expiration date is within three to six months of your departure.”
Processing Times For U.s. Passports
Japan, for example, “requires your passport to be valid for the duration of your visit,” adds The Points Guy’s Honig. The airline will allow you to book, check in and even fly to your destination with an outdated passport, so it’s really your responsibility to meet the date requirements, he adds. “A foreign country probably won’t hesitate to put you back on the plane [home] at your expense.”
It’s also worth noting that even if your passport is valid, you may need to obtain a visa to enter your destination country. “Visas are a different animal,” says Honig, but luckily “visas are valid even for an expired passport.” So if you have an expired passport with a current visa, it is better to get your old passport back with a renewed passport.
Bottom line: save yourself a lot of time renewing your passport, check your passport’s expiration date even if you think you’re eligible to travel, and research the passport and visa requirements of the country you plan to visit.
If you find yourself traveling for a few weeks (or even days) with an expired or soon-to-be-expired passport, take a deep breath because all is not lost. There are several ways to get an expedited passport, but it’s definitely a more expensive and time-consuming process.
Apply In Person
How long does it take to get a fast passport? Well, it depends on what kind of crisis you are really in. Here are a few different scenarios and what to do in each one:
If you’ve gotten married, divorced, or changed your name and want it officially on your passport, there are several ways to change your name on your passport. The easiest is to have an official or certified copy of the marriage certificate or court order (you cannot send a photocopy or a notarized copy).
If your passport was issued less than a year ago, there is no fee to change the name on your passport. Send Form DS-5504, original certified proof of name change, old passport and one color passport photo (with requirements above).
If it’s been more than a year, you basically go through the renewal process and file name change paperwork. However, if you are not eligible for renewal (unless you have your old passport, it was carried beyond normal travel or was issued when you were under 16 or over 15), you can first apply for a passport through and include name change documents .
Definitive U.s. Passport Application Guide For First Timers 
According to Honig of The Points Guy, if your passport is lost or stolen while abroad, “you have no options.” Before you leave for your trip, note the nearest embassy or consulate where you will be staying – this is where you will go if you lose your passport during the trip. If you lose your passport and find yourself at the US embassy without it, says Evan God, managing editor of Lonely Planet, “Remember to be very polite and friendly to the embassy staff; They are trying to help you get home!
While many professional travelers keep photocopies of their passports as a backup in case of an emergency, Lonely Planet editor Trisha Ping suggests storing a scanned passport online in the cloud, making it easier to get a spare passport in case of an emergency at the consulate. Obviously, the easiest way to keep your passport safe is to protect it while you travel.
Honig recommends picking a spot, like a small pocket on your bag, and making it your passport’s permanent home while you travel. When you arrive at your destination, it is often safer to store your passport at the hotel and walk around with a photocopy.
Passport cards are the means by which the US enters its land or sea borders (such as Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda). The difference between a regular passport and a passport card is that passport cards cannot be used for international flights. But the advantages of getting a passport card are that they are cheaper ($30 to $55, depending on whether you are a first-time applicant or renewing your passport card) and more portable, but most travelers recommend a general passport. .
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So, if you’re going on a return trip, getting a passport might work, but “your plans can change and you never know when you’ll want to fly,” says Boh.
There is also no advantage to having a passport; Processing is the same as for a normal passport. If you want spring for both, you can apply for a passport and a passport card at the same time using a single application form. “I don’t see any reason to get [a passport] instead of a passport,” but getting both can give you more proof of your U.S. citizenship and identity.
Don’t let waiting for your passport add to the stress of planning your trip. After submitting the documents and applying for a passport online
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