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12 Small Mistakes That Can Cause a BIG Headache When Renewing Your Passport

Be sure to avoid these 12 easy-to-make passport mistakes.

Traveling abroad involves more than booking airline tickets and packing your bags. Increasingly, it also involves ensuring that your passport is up-to-date and travel-ready well before you hop on a plane. With passport processing times taking up to three months, there isn’t much room for error. Even those who pay for expedited processing are now facing long wait times of upwards of six weeks.

When you run into a problem, contacting your United States Senator or Congressperson can sometimes help. However, they can’t solve every passport issue in time, so it’s better to avoid mistakes in the first place. A problem with your passport, or passport application, shouldn’t stand between you and your dream trip.

1 OF 12

Wearing the Wrong Clothing in Your Passport Photo

You may think you submitted your passport application in plenty of time, only to receive a notice in the mail that your passport photo was rejected. Some common mistakes include wearing a camouflage shirt, uniform, glasses, or head covering, such as a hat or scarf. If you need a medical or religious exemption for any of these requirements, you can submit supporting documentation with your application and request an exception, but it’s not guaranteed.

2 OF 12

Confusing a Passport Photo With a Social Media Post

Selfies and filters are a part of everyday life for many people. However, even your most-liked Instagram photo of all time will likely be sent back for a re-do. No selfies or filters are allowed for passport photos, which must accurately reflect your skin tone and likeness. A passport photo isn’t the time to find your most flattering angle or flash your pearly whites. Another requirement is that passport photos show your face clearly with a neutral expression. A smile is okay if your mouth stays closed and your eyes stay open. You also can’t use an old or grainy photo.

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Thinking You Can Keep Your Old Passport When You Apply for a New One

You can apply for a new passport at almost any time, although the State Department doesn’t recommend doing so more than nine months before your current passport expires. Even though it might seem like a good idea to apply for a new passport with plenty of time remaining on your current one to avoid a lapse, the State Department requires that you surrender your old passport when applying for a new one. Once you turn in your old passport, it’s no longer valid. That means, in most cases, it’s impossible to have an active passport without interruption. Although this may put a stop to some travel plans, it’s important to plan accordingly. You will get your old, canceled passport back once a new one is issued. It’s good for memories and proof of U.S. citizenship, but not travel.

4 OF 12

Not Having Enough Time Left on Your Passport

Many countries require that travelers’ passports be valid for at least three to six months beyond the dates of travel. That means you may be denied boarding if your passport only has a few weeks left, even if you are just traveling for a few days. This isn’t a universal requirement, but it’s a good idea to check the rules in the country you are traveling to, even if your passport hasn’t expired.

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Trying To Travel With a Damaged Passport

Normal wear and tear on passports is expected, but more significant damage may mean you are turned away at the border. If your passport is bent because you put it in your back pocket or the cover became faded from sitting in the sun, you are probably good to go. However, if your passport got wet, the information page with your photo is damaged, pages were torn out, or a toddler scribbled in your passport, you probably need to get a replacement.

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Make Sure the Name on Your Airline Ticket and Your Passport Match

In most cases, the name on your passport and your airline ticket must match exactly to travel internationally. Small differences in spelling could mean big trouble, so double-check for errors. Even accidentally putting your last name in the field for middle names when buying your ticket could be problematic. If you recently changed your name, even legally, you still need to be sure that the names on your passport and ticket match. One exception is that proof of a name change, including a marriage certificate or divorce decree, can be used for international travel. However, be aware that obtaining official documentation of a name change can take several weeks, so plan accordingly. For example, newlyweds likely won’t have a marriage certificate issued by the state in time for their honeymoon.

7 OF 12

Making Mistakes on Your Passport Application

Passport applications must be filled out completely and accurately. Mistyping a birthdate, transposing letters in your name, or inadvertently skipping a section will result in your application being sent back. This will prolong the application process and may mean you miss out on the opportunity to travel while a corrected application is pending. The State Department probably won’t even notify you that your application has been rejected for several weeks after submission.


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Submitting a Sloppy Passport Application

After looking over your passport application for errors, if you find any, you may be better off starting a new application than correcting the one you started. Applications with whiteout, correction tape, or crossed-out items will probably be rejected. Although it’s a pain to get your passport as quickly as possible, it’s a good idea to re-do the entire page if you find a mistake.

9 OF 12

Not Using the Right Color Ink

Applicants have the choice to type their information directly into a digital passport application or fill it out by hand. If you fill it out by hand, only black ink is acceptable. While this may seem like a small detail, reaching for a blue pen instead means that your application will be rejected, adding weeks (or more) to the process.

10 OF 12

Don’t Assume You Can Get a Last-Minute Passport

Theoretically, those who can provide proof of travel within two weeks or less can get an in-person appointment at a passport agency and walk out with a passport the same day. However, in practice, this often doesn’t work. There is a high demand for rushed passports. Since the State Department doesn’t guarantee availability,  last-minute travelers often can’t get an appointment at any passport agency in the country, let alone their closest location.


11 OF 12

Not Checking Your Passport Before Booking Travel

Passports for adults are valid for ten years in the United States. Because they are valid for so long, most people don’t set a calendar reminder for renewal a decade in advance. That means it’s easy to overlook that your passport is expired, lost, or near its renewal date before booking travel abroad. Most travel insurance doesn’t cover canceled trips due to expired passports, so this could be an expensive detail to overlook.

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Not Submitting the Right Documents With Your Application

Applying for a United States passport requires a lot of documentation. You need to prove you are a citizen, establish your identity, including payment, make sure you fill out the correct form, and submit multiple photos that meet a long list of requirements. Making an error on just one document will result in your entire application being sent back.