From fresh oysters in the Pacific Northwest to the glam of Miami, Florida and everything in between – the U.S. offers incredible places to take a vacation. But if your holiday dreams include sipping wine in a Parisian cafe, swimming with whale sharks in Thailand, or climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan, you’ll need a magical blue book – a U.S. passport.
Your passport is your identification ticket to world-wide exploration. If you’ve never had a U.S. passport before, you’ll find all of the following tips helpful. If you’re a seasoned traveler who’s filled several passports before, you still might find some interesting information below. In either case, let’s dig into the nine things you should know about your U.S. passport.
Like waaaaaayyyy early. Here’s the scoop – at the time of publishing this article, the processing times are as follows:
- 6 – 8 weeks for routine passports
- 2 – 3 weeks for expedited service (this incurs an additional fee)
- 8 business days (or less) at an agency or center (extra fees apply here, too)
This means if you don’t want to pay more than you have to for a passport and want routine processing, you should be applying at least two months prior to travel, but you’re better off with a three month leeway to avoid any stress of checking the mailbox 37 times per day waiting for your passport.
Make sure your picture meets the requirements
A bit more complicated than taking a selfie, your passport picture has some strict regulations that need to be met for your application to be accepted. Here’s the low-down:
- No glasses or hats
- Neutral face or natural smile
- Both eyes open
- Face the camera directly
- No clothing that resembles a uniform, including camouflage clothing
- No headphones
- Color photo taken within the last six months
- White or off-white background
- No blurry, pixelated, or grainy photos
If you’re not feeling confident with taking your own passport photo, many stores offer this service – Walmart, Costco, and most pharmacy stores such as Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid, but check with your local store to make sure this service is provided.
Check the specific country requirements
Most countries have requirements for how many blank pages you have left in your passport as well as how much longer it’s valid for. Check your specific destination requirements here by typing in the country name in the tiny box on the left under “Learn about your destination.” It’s not uncommon for a country to ask for at least one blank page and six months of validity from the time you enter. Some countries are fine with three months, and some just require that your passport doesn’t expire during your stay.
Like we mentioned earlier, some countries won’t allow entrance unless your passport is valid for six more months. Six months plus the processing time of 6 – 8 weeks means that if you have a trip planned that hovers near six months before passport expiration, you’ll need to be renewing at least eight months before expiration, if using the routine processing option.
Your old passport will make its way back to you
You’ll need to send in your expired/expiring passport in with the renewal application. Goodbye vacation memories. But! You will get it back. It will be mailed back to your listed return address. Although it may come in a separate envelope and not on the same day as your shiny, new passport. Obviously the old one is no longer valid, and will have two large holes punched through it, but you may keep it as a memento of your international travels. But keep it in a safe place, as it’s still proof of citizenship.
Frequent traveler? Get a bigger one (at no extra cost)
When you apply for a passport, you get the option of a standard passport or a large passport – both cost the same price. A standard passport contains 28 pages. A large has 52 pages. Both are the same size, but the large is slightly bulkier due to the extra pages. It’s likely that you don’t need more than 28 pages, but if you plan on significant traveling during your passport’s validity of 10 years, you may be better offer with the larger passport. Since there’s no extra cost, there’s nothing to lose by getting.
If your passport becomes full during its validity, there’s no option to add extra pages (anymore). You simply need to apply for a new one. As we mentioned earlier, some countries require your passport to contain a specified number of blank pages in order to gain entry. It boils down to this: if you might travel A LOT within the next 10 years or if you’ve come close to filling up a previous passport, opt for the larger of the two to avoid a potential headache later.
Don’t count on getting a stamp at every border
Some of us on epic adventures use our passport as a kind of scrapbook – reviewing stamps to bring back memories of trips. But not all countries place a physical stamp anymore as we dive deeper into digitizing well, basically everything, so don’t count on getting one for every country you visit.
You can have two valid passports at the same time
As strange as it sounds, you can actually have two passports at the same time that are both active and valid, although it’s not common. It also requires you to prove to the State Department that you have a legitimate reason to need two. But busy travelers might run into two scenarios where they’re in need of two – one is about logistics and the other is about relations.
The logistical reason: You’re planning a large trip that requires your passport to be sent away to embassies or consulates to get the proper visa for entry. If you send your passport away but need to travel in the interim, this is where the second passport becomes necessary.
The relations reason: While the State Department doesn’t explicitly name countries, many located in the Middle East will deny entrance to travelers who have a stamp in their passport from a country they don’t like. Although it feels a bit like an elementary school fight, countries don’t always get along with each other.
A secondary passport is only valid for two years, instead of the standard 10. The application process is identical to your first and the cost is the same.
What to do if yours get lost or ruined
Your dog ate your passport or you kid decided it was a coloring book. Never before has a coloring book come with a $110 price tag, but he/she has expensive taste. What happens now? Apply for a new one in person. Damaged passports aren’t accepted. Trying to fix it will more than likely only cause you further headaches. You’ll have to hand over the damaged passport as well, but this time it may not come back to you. The State Department has the right to retain damaged passports for security reasons. Here’s the full process listed out.
If your passport goes missing in that black hole in your house that steals single socks, remote controls, and important pieces of paper, you’ll first need to report it missing or stolen and then apply for a new one in person. Here’s the full information explained in detail.
Ready for some international travel with your shiny new passport?
We’ll get you there! Honeymoons, anniversary trip, spring break family trip, or a girls weekend away – we’re here to plan it all for you! Let us know where you’re heading and we’ll lend our expertise to create an entirely customized vacation for you and your travel companions.