If you’ve been feeling that wanderlust itch, this is the post you need to read. It’s all fine and good to pin your favorite exotic locales on Pinterest, but before you can cross those destinations off your bucket list, you have to take care of a few real world details first — like making sure your passport’s up to date.
Getting a passport for the first time is thrilling. But like every other good thing in life, even your passport, your golden ticket to see almost any country around the world, has an expiration date. And since your passport may not be a piece of documentation that you use often and are more likely to tuck away in a filing cabinet for safekeeping, it’s very likely that you won’t know your passport has expired until it’s too late.
How long is a passport good for?
We can get this answer straight from the horse’s mouth to avoid any confusion: The U.S. Passport Service Guide says that a passport’s expiration date is calculated from the date it is issued. But that’s where much of the predictability ends. A passport’s expiration date can vary, depending on whether it was issued to a minor or an adult or because of an emergency. Typically, a passport will expire in 10 years if it was issued to an adult or someone over the age of 16.
Understanding your passport’s specific issuance requirements is important since some countries require a “specific period of validity” remaining on the passport before they allow you to enter. The U.S. Passport Service outlines many of the most common passport expiration questions.
How to renew your passport: seven things you need to know
Wading through all the passport renewal red tape can be confusing at best. That’s why we’ve asked a few fellow travelers and several travel industry experts to help guide you through the process.
Here’s exactly what you need to know before you renew:
1. Don’t throw away your old passport
This is a no-brainer, but it’s worth being said. In order to renew a passport, your old passport must not be destroyed — even though it is expired, you need to mail it in for a renewal. Jason Finkelman, immigration attorney at Finkelman Law, explains, “You can renew your passport by simply mailing it to the National Passport Processing Center, along with an Application for a U.S. Passport (Form DS-82). You complete the form online, print it and mail it with your passport and filing fee.”
Renewing an old passport for $110 for an adult is the most efficient way to deal with an expired passport, compared to hassle of starting the whole process over again (also $110 for a new passport). What if the old one is nowhere to be found? Get dressed — you won’t be able to do this one from home.
“If your passport has been lost or stolen,” Finkelman says, “you should immediately call or go online to the Department of State website and report it lost or stolen. In order to get a new passport, you will need to make an in-person appointment at your regional passport agency and submit Form DS-11 for a new passport, in person.”
2. Check the details
If you want to keep things easy and renew your passport by mail, there are a few basic criteria that must be met first, according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. David Alwadish, CEO and president of ItsEasy.com, a leading provider of passport and visa services, explains that some of these qualifiers include checking the date, name and photo on your passport renewal application. He advises, “Make sure your passport was issued on or after your 16th birthday and that it is a 10-year passport. Make sure that the expiration date hasn’t exceeded over five years. Make sure you have the same name as it appears on your most recent passport. If you are in need of a change of name, the terms must be either marriage, divorce or a court order to continue your passport renewal.”
Alwadish says it helps to stick with the passport photo guidelines to avoid any holdups in the renewal process: “When taking your passport photo, make sure your hair does not exceed the boundaries of the photo. Do not wear glasses, uniforms, head coverings (unless for religious purposes), and make sure you are expressing either no smile or minimal smile.”
3. Check the signature
As small potatoes as it seems, take a moment to give the signature on your passport renewal application a second glance. A signature that is illegible or different from the signature on an old passport may be cause for concern. Alwadish advises, “Make sure that your signature is consistent to ensure your application is handled properly at agency.”
4. Check the validity date
We mentioned this above, but your passport’s period of validity could ruin your dream vacation plans if your passport is brand new or about to expire. “Many countries require that a passport be valid for at least six months prior to the date of your arrival. If you don’t have at least six months of validity on your passport, you may be denied entry into that country. So make sure to check the validity date on your passport,” says Finkelman.
5. Go for the book and the card
Depending on how much traveling you plan to do, this might be the time to go big or go home. Rather, don’t undershoot your passport needs, or you could run out of pages in your passport book. “Due to the recent announcement of there no longer being extra pages in passports, passport holders should opt for the 52-page book if they plan on doing a lot of traveling. As well, they should also consider buying a passport card for an additional $30 for their wallet as a great additional ID,” says Alwadish.
6. Use a different process if you’re outside the U.S.
For U.S. citizens who may be living in a foreign country, passport renewal is a little different. Unlike the U.S., you won’t be able to pay a fee and renew by mail. Finkelman says passport holders living in a foreign country will need to contact the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for or renew an old passport.
It sounds complicated, but seasoned traveler Nina Ragusa of the Where in the World is Nina? blog says renewing a passport abroad has major benefits — namely, it can be quicker and cheaper if you play your cards right. She says, “I needed a new passport back in 2014. I had been living abroad for years, and I figured I’d get it at the end of 2013 since I was visiting home around that time. Most countries require that you have at least six-month validity left on your passport. If you happen to be traipsing through another country with time left on your passport, you might be better off getting it abroad than back in the USA. I dropped my passport off at the embassy in Bangkok, filled out the paperwork and within two weeks I had my new passport in my hands and sent to me in Krabi, the south of Thailand. (Obviously, you can’t leave the country during this time since you won’t have a passport.)”
Ragusa continues, “In the USA, it was estimated at a 4-5 week turnaround time, and the mailing process was more expensive! If you’re already abroad, look into what it takes to get a passport while you’re there. It could be quicker and cheaper, and you won’t have to cut your holiday short.”
7. Don’t make this common passport mistake
Passport rules and regulations are constantly changing, and no one knows that better than Jacquie Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel, who finds passport processing and renewal to be among some of the most common problems she encounters when booking trips for clients. As Whitt reminds us, these days you need a passport to go everywhere and traveling to Mexico or Canada still isn’t an excuse to let a passport lapse. “Be aware that in 2007 the rules for needing a passport to enter Mexico and Canada changed, and every visitor was required to obtain a passport.” Because of this recent change, Whitt gives us another heads-up: “There was a tidal wave of new passports issued in the U.S. in 2007. All those passports are due to expire in 2017. We can expect another flood of renewals. And delays in getting new passports.”
More: Do you really need a passport to fly domestically now?