If you're like most Fodor's readers, your passport is one of your most-prized possessions, your ticket to exploring the world. With that in mind, you'll want to make sure your passport is up-to-date, so we've compiled this handy guide to helping you renew it.
Renew Your Passport by Mail
The U.S. Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs has devised a system that allows most individuals to renew a passport by mail. You can do this if your passport:
• is undamaged and is submitted with your renewal application
• was issued when you were 16 years old or older
• was issued within the last 15 years
• was issued in your current name, or you can prove your legal name change by providing an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate or the government-issued document showing the legal name change
If all of those things hold true, fill out form DS-82, U.S. Passport Renewal Application for Eligible Individuals, either online or print a PDF and complete it by hand. Once you've filled out the form, sign and date it. Next, get out your current passport and passport card (if you have one) to mail in with your application. (A passport card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports of entry. It cannot be used for international travel by air.)
If you're requesting a name change, add an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate or court order to the pile of materials you have to mail in.
You also must send one passport photo that meets the following requirements:
• color photo
• printed on matte or glossy photo-quality paper
• two square inches
• sized such that the head is between one inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
• taken within the last six months
• taken in front of a plain white or off-white background, in full-face view directly facing the camera
• show a neutral expression with both eyes open. Don't wear your glasses or a hat.
Now, grab your checkbook and pay the applicable fees (make the check out to the U.S. Department of State). You can also pay with a money order. Write the full name and date of birth of the renewal applicant on the front of your check.
Everyone else must renew his or her passport in person (see below.). (Note: U.S. citizens living in another country other than Canada must renew their passports at the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.)
As of press time, U.S. passport renewal fees are:
• $140 for adult renewals of both a passport book and card
• $110 for adult renewals of a passport
• add $60.00 for expedited service (U.S. only)
• add $14.85 for passport book overnight delivery (U.S. only)
Use the handy Estimate Your Fees tool at the State Department's website. When you're ready to send your application, we strongly recommend that you use a traceable delivery method.
Your passport will be delivered via Priority Mail with delivery confirmation, unless you pay extra for overnight delivery. Expect to receive your renewed passport within four to six weeks. The wait is reduced to three weeks if you pay for expedited service.
Renew Your Passport in Person
If you aren't eligible to renew your passport by mail or you are in a hurry (i.e., need a renewed passport in less than three weeks' time), you must apply for a passport renewal in person at the passport agency nearest you. (A handful of libraries around the country are now offering this service; check with your local branch).
Appointments are required and can be scheduled 24/7 by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778. Note that will-call service is available for what the agency calls "life-or-death emergencies" or immediate travel (i.e., your boss just told you that you have to be in Japan in three days and your passport is expired). Proof of travel is required at most passport agencies.
If you're traveling internationally within two weeks, fill out form DS-82 and bring it with you to the passport agency along with your current passport, passport photo, any name-change documentation, your travel itinerary (including airline e-tickets), and a form of payment.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Cruise Critic, and other websites and magazines. She also teaches travelers how to leverage their frequent flyer miles at FrequentFlyerToolkits.com.