If you’re looking to travel internationally for the first time, whether you’re in your 20s and starting a job with a firm requiring you to do business abroad, or retiring without ever having left the United States, there are few facts about the application process of which you should be aware. Though the US passport is far from the most useful travel document (http://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/global-passport-index-singapore/index.html), it still holds a great deal of power across the world, and the time needed to apply for a new one or renew an old one reflects government efficiency, by having all their ducks in a row before issuing a document that lets you go gallivanting.
Getting a passport for the first time
Just as important as the processing time required by the US Department of State once your application is received is the time needed to gather all the appropriate documents to submit. First-time passport applicants need to bring Form DS-11, proof of US citizenship – e.g. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, a copy of that proof, a passport-sized photo taken within the last few months, their photo ID, and a copy of that ID. In addition, unless going through a third-party agency like Travel Visa Pro, anyone applying for a US passport for the first time must make an appointment at a designated regional passport agency.
Assuming you have your proof of citizenship handy, taking a passport photo can take less than an hour at a pharmacy, photo studio, regional passport agency, or one of the nine Travel Visa Pro offices. The time for copying the aforementioned documents is inconsequential, so what’s left?
Next to gathering any missing citizenship papers, filling out Form DS-11 and making an appointment at a passport center are probably the most time consuming tasks. Any mistakes on the forms may result in them not being accepted and you being required to return on another day. If your departure plans give you plenty of time, this isn’t a big problem, but many travelers are operating in a crunch.
Once your documents are accepted by an official, the processing time varies depending on the time of the year and how busy the office is. Normally in-person applications are processed and returned within two weeks.
Renewing a passport
Those who already have a passport and are renewing – assuming it hasn’t been expired for more than five years – have the choice between applying in person at one of the 26 regional passport agencies in the US or any embassy or consulate abroad, or mailing in their application. The good news is because the expired passport is acceptable as proof of US citizenship, no birth certificate or photo ID needs to be included for a renewal.
However, you may find that the wait required for a mail-in application is slightly more stressful than that of an in-person one. While consular and passport officials at the latter may at least be able to ballpark the time your passport will be ready to be picked up, mail-in applications have very little communication in either direction: mail it in, wait several weeks, and hope it’s returned without any errors. Expedited processing is available, and you can choose to include a self-addressed envelope with overnight return service, but even then, your passport renewal will more than likely take a few weeks from submission to return.
Getting a passport in an emergency
Passport applications can be expedited in just a few business days if you provide proof of immediate travel, especially if these reasons include a medical emergency or a death in the family. In cases such as these, mail-in applications are not advised. Rather, travelers need to make an appointment at the closest regional passport agency and provide proof of the emergency, whereupon officials can sometimes return passports in 1-3 business days.
Because many Americans do not live close to a regional passport center or may be unable to travel there, Travel Visa Pro has dozens of pick up and drop off locations in major and minor cities to accommodate these last-minute passport requests.
How long did it take you to get your US passport?