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3 Things Every Traveler Needs to Know About Their Passport

The United States passport experienced a sort of baby boom in 2007.

This was the year the government launched Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Prior to that, Americans could travel to all sorts of places (largely Canada and Mexico), sans passport. Today, you most definitely need that navy blue booklet to cross the border.

So, why am I bringing this up in 2016?

Well, it’s because we’re nearly at the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative’s decade anniversary. And that means a lot of people will soon hold expired passports. I recently spoke to Brenda Saunders Sprague, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Bureau of Consular Affairs, about what this will mean for travelers.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Start the Process Early

According to Sprague, it’s starting to take a lot longer to get that passport renewed. The Passport Bureau of Consular Affairs are expecting 17 million applications this year, and 20 million next. While they’ve done everything they can to expedite the process, there’s not much they can do about the backlog. “As I like to say, you can’t build a church for Easter Sunday,” says Sprague. “So we’re going to be slow. It’s going to take longer. We’re pushing people to apply early.”

2. Renew Your Passport When It’s 9 Years Old.

Did you know that most countries require your passport to be valid for six months following your incoming flight? That means that even though your passport may technically not be expired for the duration of your trip, you could still not be allowed to leave the country.

“The six-month validity has been a nightmare for many, many travelers,” says Sprague. “Every Monday morning, we see all these very sad travelers who missed the first weekend of their trip because they didn’t have the six-month validity. It’s our number one talking point: look at your expiration date. When you get to year nine, it’s time to get a new one.”

3. Renew your passport, even if you don’t plan to travel.

You never know when you might need to fly to another country at the drop of a hat. Some examples: a family member is traveling internationally and falls ill; or your kid is studying abroad and needs help. You can’t predict emergencies, and figuring out how to get a valid passport into your hands is the last thing you want to be dealing with in a scary situation. It’s always good to just know you have it.

Also, a passport is an official proof of citizenship, and a great backup should you ever lose your driver’s license.

Have any excellent passport tips? Ever had a passport disaster? Share in the comments!

There are some big changes happening for US passport holders. Here's what you need to know.

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. If you have to send in your old passport to have it renewed…..what if you need to travel while you are waiting on the new one?? the old one may still be valid but you have to return it. We cruise several times a year and there is virtually no time to have it renewed as we need it every few months.

    1. If you need a passport ASAP, there are several ways to expedite the process. It will cost more, but you’ll have a minimal time to wait. Begin the process as soon as you get back from one trip. Our renewal took less than three weeks.

      1. I was coming up on that 6 month mark and needed to get another passport. Since I have a trip in October I opted for expedited. It came very quickly as promised. Whew! Great tips – not enough people know about that 6 month mark.

    2. Two more things to know. One is that this may be the last year to get extra pages in your renewed passport. Doesn’t cost extra, so do it; hopefully, you’ll travel enough to need them. Also, it is possible to get a second passport. I was scheduled for a trip to the Caribbean when I needed to send passport for a visa to Iran. Refer to the State Dept. website for procedure; basically you add a letter to the application explaining the need and they process the passport application and send both the new and the old passports, without punching the old one. Unfortunately, they still punched my wife’s old one and she had to call them and send the package again to correct the mistake.

  2. We had one member of a group trip to Peru and then Panama that her passport expired in less than six months, going in and out of Peru was fine but she was unable to fly to Panama because of not having a valid passport six months after our trip. She ended up have to cut the trip short and flying home.

    1. She was uninformed. She could go to the consulate of her country in Peru and get her passport renew there. It may cost more, but is a normal thing

  3. This is good advice! The other thing I suggest to clients is to make several photocopies of the picture page of their passports. I tell them to carry one, leave one in their suitcase for lost baggage tracking, and one with a friend or relative at home. I tell them to keep the original in their hotel safe, since it’s rarely needed once they’ve reached their destination,

  4. I just renewed my passport and it only took a total of 3 weeks! I did it early because we are not traveling until October, thinking that it would take a long time to get it back! Mine was a simple renewal, same name, same address,etc. Received the new one and the old one in separate envelopes on the same day!

  5. In addition to making copies of your passport, SCAN AND EMAIL a copy to yourself. Hard copies can be lost or misplaced, but the internet is everywhere!

  6. Sigh, I need to renew my passport after my next trip. We love to travel, and having added extra pages twice. it is thick and full of cool stamps. However, I just found out that the State Department no longer issues extra pages, so if you run out of space, you need to renew (even if it is less than 10 years old). .

    I always feel naked taking my first trip with a new passport!

  7. For those who need to renew but also need their passport to travel, you may be able to get a second passport! The application and fees are the same, but you must explain your valid reason for a second passport, and it’s good for just 2 years.

  8. We had heard all the horror stories about how long it took to renew your passport and since our expire in Jan 2017 we decided back in mid March to renew them since we did not have any overseas travel planned. Sent them in – registered with tracking for the USPS and they could not find them 2 days after we sent them out. Total panic!! 9 days later still no location on the tracking USPS looking for them. All our old passports and new photos and forms gone and no one knew where. On the 10th day we got our new passports in the mail. USPS does not have a real way to track mail even though they charge extra for it. But we have them (thank god) because we ended up going to Belize in June (won a trip) and without renewing early we would not have been able to accept the trip Shocked it only took 10 business days for us to have our new passports in hand and we did not pay extra for expedited or anything.

    1. I have had similar experiences with USPS also. Their tracking is not the best system yet. I sent ours by FedEx, costs more but I felt it was worth it. It was still cheaper than going to the passport agency near me.

  9. I live in Germany and will be extending my stay for another few years. My passport will expire early 2017 and I have no idea when or how to get my new passport in a timely manner. I travel frequently within Europe, and even within Germany it is not uncommon to get passport controlled even when taking a bus within Germany.

    Does anyone have experience with how to go about this? My residence permit will have to be renewed in the coming months (before my passport) and I wanted to try and receive the new passport ahead of time. I am lost and the US Consulate was not much help, at least the person I happened to talk to.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      I hope you’ve already been helped with an answer to your question about passport renewal. I also am located in Germany, and have lived here for almost 40 years. It is important for you (and will save you paying a double fee) to obtain your passport renewal before applying for your residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel), as that is no longer attached to a page in your passport, but is issued as a credit card sized plastic card. It will include your new passport number (which is why you should have the new passport first), and will cost you 60 Euros! They are issued in Berlin, and no longer at your local Rathaus.
      All the information you need can be found here:

  10. Our passports expire in July, so we renewed them a few weeks ago. We’ve already received our new passports. The process took less than a few weeks. We were pleasantly surprised.

  11. Also, this article forgot to mention that starting 2018 all domestic travel will also require a passport. So it’s best to get yours renewed now. Or if you never had one to start the application right away as well.

    1. Not true. Here are the facts regarding the requirement in 2018. A passport will NOT be required for domestic travelFact: Until January 2018, if traveling by air, residents from ANY state are still able to use a driver’s license, or any of the various other forms of identification accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (Passport or Passport Card, Global Entry cards, U.S. military IDs, airline or airport-issued IDs, federally recognized, and tribal-issued photo IDs. See the full list on the TSA website.)

      Effective January 22, 2018, if you have a driver’s license or identification card issued by a state that does not meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act, unless that state has been granted an extension, you must present an alternative form of identification acceptable to TSA in order to board a commercial domestic flight.
      Starting October 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel.

    2. This is not accurate. There are a few states (mine is one of them) that do not have a state driver’s license that is compliant with TSA requirements for domestic air travel. Most states will be compliant by 2018, so this is like a moot point.

  12. Great post, Samantha!

    I would add that the U.S. stopped adding additional visa pages on January 1st of this year so if a traveler is planning on filling up their pages, they won’t be able to get additional ones while traveling. Getting a new passport prior to travel may be the best decision in that case so they don’t have to go through the process abroad and potentially get stuck somewhere.

    Cameron Cobb

  13. Hi! We are scheduled to leave for Ireland in less than 2 weeks. We just discovered that my husband’s passport has expired. We are using an expediting service to try to get it quickly. Have you experienced anything like this befor? Are theses companies reputable?

    1. Annette,
      Check the Passport website for places to go “in person” for immediate renewal. For example in MA, it’s in Boston. You will pay extra for this, but you won’t just be giving your money to a 3rd party. If you have AAA membership, they will take the photos for you, quick and easy with a minimal fee (less if you are a AAA-plus member).
      You could also expedite the process yourself with overnighting mail and extra fees to the Passport website.
      Good Luck

  14. The expediting services work great for getting a passport or visa. I’ve had to get visas at the last minute for business and all it takes is money.

  15. One important thing—take care of your passport! You can be denied entry if your passport has been ripped or water spilled on it. So keep it away from the dog and the baby. It may be a good idea to have a passport cover to protect it.

  16. Actually, many countries require your passport to be valid 6 months beyond your LAST day of travel, not your incoming flight.

  17. Going on a cruise in October and leaving from Miami to San Juan , grand Turks, St Kitts , and St Maarten and we were told we didn’t need a passport since wee are leaving and returning from Miami, is that right?

    I want to ask would it be ok to white lien Capri outfit with Jacket on cruise ship that time of year.?

  18. I sent in one check to pay for two passports. Six weeks later the application was returned because they wanted two separate checks. We almost didn’t get them in time for our trip.

  19. I worked in International adoption for many years and we always strongly urged all families (even those who did not have to travel outside of the US to meet their adoptive child) to apply for a passport. It is the ultimate form of ID! Supercedes a State issued Driver’s License.

  20. If you’ve recently gotten married you’ll need to get a new passport. This really irritated me as I had to pay full bore instead of having the name change. Grrr!

  21. I lost my passport somewhere in Ireland in September 2016 and didn’t realize that until I checked in with my airlines in Dublin. Fortunately we keep copies, in color, of our passports. We literally ran to the Irish police who wrote us a police report and we were able to catch our flight. Terrifying but the kind folks in Dublin were amazing!

  22. Had my PP pickpocketed in Rome. On Friday. Had to extend my stay over the weekend until the embassy opened.
    Two very important thoughts.
    1. Make color copies of passports and put one in every bag. Also a photograph on smart phones.
    2. Don’t carry your passport around with you. Lock it up and put a copy in your bag/backpack.
    Actually an extra three days in Rome wasn’t terrible. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike Bolin,

      Your #1 suggestion is good. I would add an additional suggestion = carry a copy in your wallet or purse.

      Regarding your #2 suggestion – tourists and travelers need to check with the foreign nation they are visiting to determine if the law requires tourists to carry their passports at all time. Italy is one nation that requires foreigners to carry their passports.

  23. My passport is not expired, but it has my maiden name on it. Any chance I can still use it to go from the U.S. to Canada?

  24. I like your tip about how you need to start the process of renewing your passport early because it’s starting to take a lot longer. It’s getting to the point where my passport needs to be renewed and I’m about to go on a cruise out of the country, so I need to get it renewed as soon as possible but don’t know the steps I need to take. I will definitely keep your great tips and information in mind when trying to successfully get my passport renewed so I can go on my cruise.

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