US citizens need a passport to travel to most international destinations. Since 2009, a passport book or a US passport card is required to travel to and from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.
(Traveling within the US? Get to know the new REAL ID, the new identification required for domestic air travel.)
US citizens do not need a passport to travel to US territories such as Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam.
The rules may be different for children or for families traveling on a cruise ship. For cruises that begin and end in the same US port but visit ports of call in Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, passengers can re-enter the US with just a license from valid driver and a birth certificate. (Still, it’s wise to carry a passport regardless of this loophole, in case an emergency arises at a non-US port that requires you to return to the US by air.) Children under the age of 16 returning to the US by land or sea from these countries only need a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
How long does it take to get a passport
Getting a US passport or a US passport card is simple if you have all the required documentation. The application process generally takes four to five weeks, but can take longer during busy periods. If you need your passport within two months, the State Department recommends opting for expedited service for an additional fee plus shipping costs. With expedited service, you can expect to receive your new passport in two to three weeks.
Applying for the first time
If this is your first passport book, you must apply in person at one of the 7,000 passport acceptance facilities. The closest center is likely near where you live at a local city hall, post office, public library, or county clerk’s office. Bring the following items with you:
- Form DS-11, which can be downloaded from the Department of State website
- Certified birth certificate or other proof of U.S. citizenship
- Official photo ID, such as a valid driver’s license or military ID
- Two passport size photos
- Rates: $ 110 for adults; $ 80 for children under 16; plus $ 25 per person in execution fees
The US passport card has been in production since July 14, 2008 and allows travelers to re-enter the United States by land or sea when traveling from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The application process is the same as for a passport, and the cards are valid for the same duration (five years for children under 16, 10 years for adults), but the fees for these wallet-sized cards are significantly lower. Fees are $ 30 for adults and $ 15 for children, making the passport card a viable option for families who often don’t travel far from home.
Renew a US passport
To renew a US passport, the process is generally easier and cheaper than for first-time applications. You can renew by mail as long as your expired passport is not damaged, it was issued no more than 15 years ago, it was issued under your current name, and you were at least 16 years old when you got it. You will need to:
- Form DS-82. You can download it from the Department of State website, fill it out, and sign it.
- Your most recent passport
- Two passport size photos
- Rates: $ 110 for adults; $ 80 for children under 16; no execution fee
Please note that if your most recent passport is damaged or was issued more than 15 years ago, or you changed your name, or you were under 16 when you got it, you must go through the process for new ones.
Application for a child
Whether applying for a first passport or renewing an expired one, a minor must apply in person with both parents or legal guardians present. Both adults must sign the application form for a child under 16 years of age. The certified birth certificate must show the names of both parents or, in the case of legal guardians, proof of the relationship. If the minor does not have a photo ID, parents or guardians must show proof of citizenship and identity and then attest to the child.
Online passport renewal
Looking for a way to renew your passport online? For now, that is not possible. But the State Department’s Office of Consular Affairs says it can happen. Speaking at a symposium in Washington in May 2017, community relations officer for passport services Carl Siegmund said the government is looking to implement a limited online renewal option in 2018. The implementation would include the option of automatic notifications for help applicants stay informed of the status of their applications, including updates via email and SMS text messages.