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Travel tips

How to get or renew a U.S. passport

Aug 13, 2021 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

One of the most meaningful souvenirs from traveling the world is a passport filled with stamps from all the places you visit. But before you pack your bags, you need to make sure you have a passport—and that it’s still up to date. So, whether you’re applying for the first time or renewing one that’s expired, here’s how to get a passport. (Don’t forget to read about other ways to prepare for your next trip!)

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Where do you need a passport to travel to?

U.S. citizens can visit all 50 U.S. states without a passport, as well as the U.S. territories of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. 

However, you do need a U.S. passport to visit nearly any other country. So, if you’re dreaming of dining on fresh pasta on tour in Italy, learning about the ancient legends in Greece, or swimming in the Blue Lagoon on a trip to Iceland, you need to make a passport part of your reality.

Where can I get a passport?

Many post offices, clerks of court, libraries, and local government offices process passports. You can use this Passport Acceptance Facility search to find a spot that’s accepting applications and make an appointment, too. If you want to apply at a post office, you can even schedule an appointment directly with the USPS.

If you’re renewing your passport, changing your name, or applying for a card/book if you already have the other, you can also apply by mail. This option is a bit faster and more convenient for those who qualify, so it’s definitely worth exploring!

How to get a passport

Follow these simple steps if you’re applying for your first passport—or if you don’t qualify for the mail renewal process below.

  1. Make sure you’re eligible. To get a U.S. passport, you need to be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, or be a U.S. national. If that’s you, then you’re one step closer to exploring the world!
  2. Decide if you need a passport book or card. Passport cards are less expensive and more convenient to carry, but are only allowed at land border crossings and seaports in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Passport books are required for all international flights—and are the ones you’re probably used to seeing.
  3. Make an appointment. Many locations do not accept walk-ins, so your best bet is to schedule an appointment. You can find a Passport Acceptance Facility near you or schedule a time directly with the USPS. It’s that easy.
  4. Fill out your paperwork ahead of time,” said traveler Lauren. “Being prepared takes all the stress away.” You can fill out a form online or download your U.S. passport forms and fill them out by hand. (Just don’t sign the forms until your appointment.)
  5. Get a passport photo. If you’re wondering how to get a passport photo, you can contact your local pharmacies, shipping stores, post offices, or AAA offices. “I swung by CVS Pharmacy in Boston to get my passport photo taken, and it was super quick,” said staffer Jamie. “I was in and out in 10 minutes, and it only cost me around $15. They even let me peek to be sure I was happy with my photo before they printed it, which was a plus.”
  6. Find your proof of citizenship. You’ll have to bring your U.S. birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or Certificate of Citizenship with you to your appointment. Be sure to dig it up so you’re not scrambling last-minute!
  7. Photocopy your ID. This may be different than your proof of citizenship. It could be your driver’s license, government-issued ID, Military ID, or Certificate of Naturalization. Photocopy the front and back ahead of time to keep your appointment nice and speedy.
  8. Attend your appointment. Don’t forget to bring your application, proof of citizenship, photo ID photocopy, passport photo, and a check or cash for passport fees. Our experts recommend arriving 15 minutes early to your appointment, as well.

Tip: If you need your passport within 12 weeks, you’ll need to expedite the process. This costs $60 extra, includes up to six weeks for processing, and up to six weeks for mailing times. The government makes special exceptions, but you need to contact them based on your circumstances.

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How to renew your passport by mail

Did you know your passport has to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of re-entry after your tour? It’s true! But luckily, the renewal process can be a breeze. If you’re prepared, it doesn’t even require an in-person visit. So, how do you renew a passport by mail? Keep reading.

  1. Make sure you meet the requirements. You have to have your expired (or expiring) passport in good condition and available to submit with your application. You must have been at least 16 years old when it was issued, and it must have been issued within the last 15 years. It also needs to be in your current name, or else you have to include documentation of a name change along with it. If you don’t meet all five requirements, you’ll have to go in-person using the steps above.
  2. Fill out your DS-82 form. You can fill out the passport renewal form online or download and fill out the PDF version by hand. Don’t forget to sign it!
  3. Get a passport photo. Contact your local pharmacy, shipping store, post office, or AAA office, or have a friend help you take a photo, as long as it meets the passport photo requirements. “To be honest I was expecting the renewal process to be super painful, but it really wasn’t,” said staffer Kelsey. “All I had to do was fill out an application online, which was very straightforward, and print it out at a FedEx near me, where I also got my new official passport photo taken. Then, I dropped everything off at the post office and that was it!”
  4. Write a check or money order for your fees. If you’re wondering how much it costs to renew a passport, it depends on the type. Passport books cost $110, cards cost $30, and both together cost $140. Expedited service costs an additional $60. You can’t pay online, so your application will only be processed if you include your proper payment. “I had to pay a little more to get my renewal expedited, but the $60 was well worth it to give me peace of mind that it was processing faster,” staffer Kelsey added.
  5. Mail your application. You’ll need an envelope large enough to fit your application, passport, and photo without folding anything. Once you have that, mail it via USPS. You can even track your application status online, but just know it can take up to six weeks for it to show as “in process.”

Here’s where you should mail your renewal application:

Our travel experts recommend mailing your application via USPS with tracking because you can only renew through mail if you have your passport. If it gets lost, you’ll have to go in-person using the steps above and may have a more lengthy process.

Routine service (if you live in California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, or Texas)

National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 640155
Irving, TX 75064-0155

Routine service (if you live in any other state)

National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 90155
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155

Expedited service (Write “EXPEDITE” on the outside of your envelope.)

National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 90955
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

Please Note:


How long does it take to renew a passport?

Passport renewals typically take around 18 weeks to process. Passport operations do continue to be affected by COVID-19, and processing times change throughout the year. You can check the status of passport operations to see current processing times and more.

Don’t forget: Many countries require that your passport is valid at least six months beyond the date of reentry. When in doubt, renew your passport as soon as you can. Then, you can go on our escorted tours stress-free.

Which passport stamp are you most proud of? Share with us on our Facebook page! 


About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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