As we mentioned in a recent Atlas article, the U.S. Department of State is expected to release its newly designed passports any day (or month) now. And for all those who have been waiting for it to come out before applying for a new one, you will not have a minute to waste when it finally does arrive — you’ll want to submit your application before others come flooding in.
Fear not. Below is everything you need to know about the passport application process, so you can be one of the first to get your hands on the new little blue book.
The cost and processing times
Right now, it’s $110 for a passport plus an additional $25 execution fee for first-time applicants, but we wouldn’t be surprised if a higher price tag comes attached with the new passports.
For routine services, the State Department currently is citing a four- to six-week processing period, including mailing time. But that can rise during peak times (more on that in a minute).
You also can opt for expedited service, which promises delivery in two to three weeks. This service will set you back another 60 bucks. Select overnight mail delivery and it’ll be another $15.89. You can see how quickly it adds up with the State Department’s fee calculator.
For those who needed their passport like yesterday, the best the State Department says you can do is apply in person at an agency (find the closest one to you here) and it will be processed within eight business days (not including mailing time). For this, you’ll need proof of immediate international travel and will have to schedule an appointment by visiting the Online Passport Appointment System or by calling 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793.
Some people have reported getting a passport within 24 hours, but plan for it to eat up your entire day.
After filling out the application form (which you can download from here), you’ll need to have your passport photo taken. These days, a trip to the local pharmacy isn’t necessary. Through free apps like Passport Booth, you can have a professional-looking photo taken and then have it either emailed or printed and mailed to you.
Peruse the criteria for passport photos, but basically the photo must measure two inches by two inches with your head measuring between 1 and 1.375 inches. You can’t wear glasses or a hat, you must look directly at the camera, the photo must be shot against a light background and your expression should be neutral, though a natural smile is OK. And save the selfies for Instagram — the government doesn’t accept hand-held self-portraits.
When to apply
Generally, the fall is the best time to apply, when you can expect a turnaround time of four weeks. The spring leading into summer is when applications peak and the wait may extend beyond six weeks — especially this year since people may be scrambling to get their paperwork in ahead of the REAL ID deadline in October, after which a passport may be required for domestic air travel for residents of certain states.
So if your passport is set to expire and you have an international trip coming up — especially to a country with a six-month validity rule — don’t wait. Get your application in ASAP.
Checking your status
Seven to 10 business days after submitting your application, you can check its status through the government’s Online Passport Status System or by calling 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 to speak to a representative.
Just be prepared to wait on the line for a while if you do dial in. In 2016 alone, there were 1.4 million phone calls that were related to application status checks.
Running out of pages
As of January 2016, U.S. passport holders no longer can have extra pages added to their passports. If they run out of space, they’ll have to renew entirely — which is a bummer for business travelers who frequently take trips to countries where several blank passport pages are required for visas and entry and exit stamps.
That’s why it’s critical when filling out the application form to check the box at the very top requesting a large (non-standard) book with 52 pages instead of the standard 28-page version.
But even 52 pages aren’t a lot for serious travelers — and that’s when a second passport can come in handy.
Yes, jet-setters whose little blue books get filled up quickly or are always being sent into embassies for visas can apply for a second one.
A second passport also may be necessary if certain stamps in your original would prevent you from entering another country. For instance, some countries in the Middle East may deny you a visa if they find out you took a trip to Israel.
To obtain a second passport — which is only valid for four years, not 10 — applicants need to submit a photo, a completed renewal form and a letter describing the reason it’s needed.