Everything You Need to Know About Renewing Your Passport

By Cathleen Freedman

How to Renew Your Passport for International Travel

Travel restrictions have loosened, allowing destination weddings to once again commence worldwide. While everyone spent the last two years dreaming of Santorini’s cerulean shores and Tuscany’s sunkissed vineyards, not many have contemplated the far less glamorous aspects of international travel.

For Over The Moon September cover star Heather McMahan’s “wedding of the summer” abroad, her best friend, Raymond, Padilla realized that his passport was expiring dangerously close to the big day. And getting his hands on a new one in time required a Herculean effort that involved crowdsourcing advice from the general public, traveling to the nation’s Capitol  (yes, really), and working with congressional aides. Raymond documented the entire ordeal on his Instagram highlight reel aptly named “Passport 2 Paris.” It features the far-reaching highs and the treacherous lows of scoring a passport in 2022, but we think Raymond would agree when we say that when it’s your best friend’s wedding it was worth it (and Elle Woods would be proud!).

OTM founder Alexandra Macon had a similar rude awakening right before her France-bound flight. “I hadn’t traveled in ages due to the pandemic, and when I looked at my passport just days before I was set to leave for a business trip, I was shocked to discover I only had two months left before it expired,” she says. “I was then further surprised to learn that France is in the Schengen Region, which means you need six months of validity left on your passport to enter the country. Needless to say, I quickly went into panic mode.”

When packing, don’t let your passport slip your mind. There are countless horror stories about delayed passports with only a few uplifting tales about guests just barely receiving theirs in time for the plane ride. Yoko Ono and John Lennon had to completely reroute their international wedding plans when passport problems arose. So it’s high time you brush off the dust on your passport and double-check the fine print for its expiration date. After all, you might be surprised that ten years have already passed, and you’re due for your very own state-issued something new and something navy blue.

Flight Cancellations

Why is traveling so hellish right now? Extreme weather conditions, oversold flights, understaffed airports, and a pilot shortage are a few of the key ingredients that make air travel a less-than-perfect storm in 2022. Couple these circumstances with the sheer influx of passengers engaging in “revenge travel,” a phrase used to describe the trips people are booking this summer to compensate for two years without vacations. No wonder it’s nightmarish inside most airports.

Experts recommend patience and flexibility. Arrive at the airport hours earlier than you originally intended and try apps like FlightAware to stay abreast. Some savvy travelers place air tags in their checked suitcases, in case the airline loses their luggage. If possible, fly direct and fly out of smaller airports in the morning. For connecting flights with narrow layovers, ask your airline to rebook you. They can typically do this without any extra fees. If your travel itinerary includes Europe, brush up on EU261. This regulation ensures compensation for delays and cancellations.

Six-Month Passport Validity

If you’re smugly thinking to yourself, “My passport doesn’t expire for another few months. I should be fine!” you may want to go ahead and renew your passport. Many countries have a “Six-Month Validity Rule” to prevent travelers from overextending their stay illegally. Essentially, your passport cannot expire within six months of your trip. Other countries like Italy, Spain, and Sweden are part of the Schengen Agreement, meaning they require a three-month validity instead. In 2022, certain countries have amended this requisite, but it’s important to be advised. Regardless, you will want to check with your intended country’s specific travel policies for Americans.  While it has the makings of a good rom-com premise, being stuck in a country is not an ideal situation during wedding season.

Renewing a Passport

Passports can be renewed via mail—if you meet certain criteria. Your passport must have been issued within the last fifteen years and you must have been at least 16 years old to qualify. You must also have the physical, non-damaged passport in your possession. If you can cross off these boxes, then mail in a DS-82 form, your most recent passport, a photo that meets the right requirements, and a check to your nearest processing center. For more details, visit travel.state.gov

For Newlyweds with New Names

If you recently tied the knot and changed your name—firstly, congratulations. Secondly, you need to have that name on your passport. Be sure to update your passport to reflect your married name before your first anniversary. After the honeymoon, obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate and send it with a Passport Amendment/Validation application to a passport agency. Your new passport with your printed married name will arrive in a few weeks—at no extra cost.

Obtaining a New Passport

If you are applying for a passport for the first time or for a child under the age of 16, you will need to take the “new passport” route and apply for your passport in person. Additionally, if you lost or damaged your passport, have a passport that was issued over fifteen years ago, or had a passport issued when you were 16 or younger, you will need to apply for a new passport as well. There are four tiers: emergency, urgent, expedited, and routine. Each one requires a coveted appointment.

Emergency Passports

While you definitely feel like missing your sister’s wedding is an emergency, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs thinks differently. This tier is exclusively reserved for life or death circumstances that involve international travel.

Urgent Passports

Urgent travel is defined as an international trip that will happen in 14 days. Booking these online appointments at U.S. passport agencies were temporarily disabled because bots were reserving times and reselling appointments. Now, the process is even more tedious than usual. You’ll have to call 1-877-487-2778 to schedule one of the limited in-person appointments.

Expedited Passports

Expedited passports incur additional fees, but you will receive your passport several weeks earlier. Presently, these take 5-7 weeks to process, plus up to two weeks for mailing. Typically, you will need to fill out a DS-11 form and bring photocopy evidence of U.S. citizenship, your photo ID and a photocopy, and an official passport-sized photo.

You must reserve an appointment ahead of time at a passport agency, library, clerk, or postal office. Don’t underestimate this final step. Agencies tend to have a few reservations available at a time, and they get snatched up faster than you can say “I do.”

Routine Passports

Scoring a routine passport is just like applying for an expedited one, except these are only slightly cheaper. Routine passports also take a few weeks longer to have and to hold. They arrive in your mailbox approximately 8-11 weeks with an additional two weeks for mailing.

Private Services

For an additional fee, you can use private couriers to hand-deliver your passport and speed up the process. . .Well, under normal circumstances. In a post-COVID world, these services often take the same amount of time as a typical expedited process with a passport agency. The U.S. State Department recommends forgoing private services this summer.

Processing Times

COVID-19 has had abysmal effects on processing times. The new “normal” processing time is 8-11 weeks, while the expedited processing time is 5-7 weeks. This does not include the up to two weeks it may take your application to reach the passport facility. While this is certainly an upgrade from 2020 and 2021 processing times, it doesn’t help when you RSVP’d “Yes” to a quickly-approaching wedding on the other side of the globe.

“It’s moved some, but there’s still a huge backlog,” Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, told The New York Times about passport processing times. He has called on the State Department to increase staffing and the budget for the Bureau of Consular Affairs to end what so many international travelers now know to be “passport purgatory.”

President Biden hopes to change this as well. He signed an executive order in December mandating the creation of an online passport renewal system. Time will tell if this program will alleviate the problem or even begin. In the meantime, navigate the official U.S. State website for additional up-to-date details, visit travel.state.gov

And with that, you’re ready to soar over international waters! Sure, all of the formalities are a pain. But the wedding cake the bride and groom cut into will make the hassle well worth it.