Renew a Passport: 10 Tips You Need to Know

Renewing or applying for a passport can be a pain in the butt. When I went in to the DMV Licensing Center back home in Minnesota at the end of August, I had to fill out (and re-fill out) the renewal form, and argue my passport photo into the right hands after an issue with it’s size. The whole process took almost an hour, and by the end, I was frustrated and exhausted. Here are 10 passport tips you should know when renewal time rolls around for you.

Sidenote: LC = Licensing Center

If You Already Have a Passport:

1. Check the expiration date- This seems like a no-brainer, but Syracuse University Study Abroad has a policy where passports must be valid 6 months after your program date. My old passport was valid until April 2010 but since I plan to be in London until May/June, I had to renew. Some companies and businesses may have similar restrictions. Make sure you research and know the rules before it’s too late.

2. If your last passport was issued before you were sixteen- I got my first passport at age 10. When you are under 16 years of age, the federal government requires passports to be renewed every five years. So before I departed for my first solo trip to London at age 15 I renewed again (I turned 16 in London that summer). Since my second passport was issued before 16 it expires (5 years later) in April of 2010. If you get a passport after age 16, it should be valid for 10 years. You don’t qualify to apply for passport renewal online if your previous passport was issued before you turned 16. You have to physically go into the LC.

General Tips

3. Get a Passport Photo from the Licensing Center- I had my passport photos taken at Walgreen’s Drug Store because they were two dollars cheaper than the LC photo. But when I got up to the counter, the photo size was off, according to the licensing lady. I risked sending in my application anyways because the managing staff member said it was probably passable. If the passport bureau decided my photo size didn’t cut it,  I would have lost the $100 application fee and have had to reapply all over again.

4. Passport fees aren’t Refunded- In the event that anything with your application is found unacceptable–your photo, information, signature, second form of ID–you’ll be notified that your application was denied and your $100 fee is gone. Be completely meticulous with your application because that’s a lot of time and money to lose when your on a travel budget and deadline.

5. Take Your Time, Print Legibly, Read All Directions- I whipped out my first set of forms confidently, and when I brought them up to the LC lady, she started checking all of my information, finding error after error where she couldn’t read what I’d written. I’d signed the form without her consent. I’d filled in my address in the wrong place and put MN as my mailing address, not New York. Needless to say, she was annoyed with me and made me do it again.

6. Don’t Sign the Form Without the LC Consent- The passport application requires the signature part to have a government witness, a.k.a. the LC employee, so make sure to hold off on that part. The form is invalid if you pre-sign it and they take this part extremely seriously.

7. You CAN Renew Your Passport By Mail If-

  • Your most recent passport is not damaged
  • Your most recent passport is less than 15 years old
  • You were at least 16 years old when the passport was issued
  • You still have the same name as in your most recent passport

The passport application is available for download from the US Department of State website.

8. Renewing Your Passport While Abroad- If you aren’t in the US and you need to renew your passport, you have to go through your nearest US Embassy or Consulate. For a list of websites, addresses and phone numbers of an embassy near you, click here.

9. Need a Passport in a Hurry?- You can apply for a passport and have it expedited to your address. It’s expensive but sometimes you have to do what it takes. After all, rolling up to customs in a foreign country with no passport would be travel suicide.

Here’s what the State Dept. says about expedited passports:

  • Cost, in addition to regular application fees, is $60 per application plus overnight delivery costs.
  • Two-way overnight delivery is strongly suggested.
  • If you submit Form DS-82 by mail – clearly mark “EXPEDITE” on the outside of the envelope.
  • Mail your passport application and any personal documents using a traceable delivery method.
  • Additionally, in order to protect the contents of your mailing from the elements throughout the delivery process, we encourage you to mail your passport application and any personal documents using a secure means of packaging, such as a Tyvek envelope

10. Application Processing Time- Delivery and processing can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks (mine took 6) so plan that into your time budget. You can check how fast the State Department is processing them here. And you can check the status of your passport application here. It takes about 5-7 days for your passport application to register in the database after you file it.

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