Please note: This post has been updated to reflect current passport processing times.
Important update: As of December 2022, the Department of Homeland Security has extended the REAL ID deadline to May 7, 2025.
Whenever you enter or exit the United States, you need to show a valid passport. Additionally, if you do not have a valid REAL ID after May 7, 2025, you will need to show a passport (or other approved form of government-issued ID, including a Global Entry card) to board a domestic flight.
REAL ID (formally The Real ID Act of 2005) is an Act of Congress aimed at making driver’s licenses and other forms of government-issued IDs more secure. All states now issue IDs that comply with this Act.
The key takeaway for travelers is that starting on May 7, 2025, you must present a REAL ID-compliant form of identification to travel on domestic flights. For most travelers, this will take the form of a REAL ID—a new license or identification card produced by your state government with enhanced security features. You can find a full list of REAL ID-compliant identification forms on the TSA website.
Every state is now issuing REAL ID-compliant identification cards. Visit the Department of Homeland Security’s easy-to-use website that provides more information about each state’s REAL ID process.
Please note: If you do not have a REAL ID-compliant identification yet, you must apply for, receive, and present the new, compliant license or ID card in order to board a domestic flight once the May 7, 2025, deadline hits. To obtain a REAL ID, contact your state's ID-issuing facility.
The U.S. State Department is in charge of issuing passports (sometimes called passport books, to distinguish them from passport cards). The State Department’s website has an easy-to-use, interactive guide that helps you apply for a passport, whether or not you’ve had one in the past. This guide will take you through every step of the process, from entering your date of birth to taking a passport photo and printing the application. An important note: You are not allowed to wear glasses in your passport photo.
Once you follow this guide and print your passport application, you will need to bring it to a physical location that accepts passport applications, as the State Department does not accept them online. The United States Postal Service has a website where you can find the nearest passport acceptance location.
As mentioned, we recommend budgeting 3-4 months for passport applications and renewals, which have a standard processing time of 8-11 weeks. You can pay an extra $60 for expedited processing, which will cut that wait time to 5-7 weeks. Thus, we recommend submitting a passport application (or renewal application) sooner rather than later. You can track the status of your passport application or renewal online on the State Department website.
Note: If you check the status of your passport renewal online and it says "Not Found," that likely means that the passport hasn't arrived at the facility yet. Wait 14 days from the time you submitted your renewal, and then check again.
A passport card is a wallet-sized, REAL ID-compliant identification card. This card can be used as identification for any domestic flight but cannot be used for international air travel. If you're worried that your current license or ID is not REAL ID-compliant, and you do not plan on traveling out of the country, you may consider applying for a passport card (the card costs $65, and you can apply for just a passport card without applying for a full U.S. passport book). You can find more information on passport cards at the State Department website.
United States passports are valid for 10 years from the date of issue. Many foreign countries have different rules on passport validity and restricting travel access, but as a general rule, your passport should be valid up to six months after your return date from an international trip.
It’s a good idea to renew your passport significantly ahead of its expiration date to ensure that you will receive the new passport with time to spare. If your passport has expired, you can still renew it up to five years after the expiration date; otherwise, you will need to apply for a new passport.
As mentioned, there are two ways to renew a passport—either by mail or in person—and each has its own eligibility requirements. The State Department website explains how to renew a passport by mail, and also has a page dedicated to explaining how to renew a passport in-person. If your passport was issued in the last 15 years, is undamaged, and was issued in your current name (or you can produce verified documents validating your name change), you may be eligible to renew by mail. Otherwise, you will need to visit an in-person passport renewal location. See the sections above or visit the State Department's website for more information on passport renewal.
As of October 13, 2023, routine processing is 8-11 weeks and expedited processing (for an additional $60) is 5-7 weeks. These time frames start the day that the State Department receives your renewal application, not the day that you mail it. We advise you to renew your passport as early as possible, hence our 3-4 month recommendation above. You can track the status of your passport application or renewal online on the State Department website.
It’s essential to keep your passport safe in all phases of travel, from the airport to ground travel to sightseeing.
Before you travel, make several photocopies of the photo page your passport. Leave one with a friend or relative, and keep one in a secure compartment of your suitcase and possibly another in your carry-on. In the event your passport is lost or stolen, these copies will prove useful for receiving a new passport.
While at the airport, consider keeping your passport in a zippered, easy-to-reach pocket in your handbag or daypack. That way, you can stow this bag below the seat in front of you on the plane and have it easily accessible once you land. You also may wish to store it in a money belt which can be worn around your waist and concealed under your clothing. Regardless, do not pack it in your checked luggage.
While traveling on ground transportation (for example, on motorcoaches between tour stops), keep your passport in your day pack, rather than stowing it with your luggage underneath the coach.
During sightseeing excursions and day trips during touring days, protect your passport by leaving it locked in the safe in your hotel room. If your room doesn’t have a safe, ask the front desk of your hotel about safe deposit boxes.
The first thing to do if you find that your passport has been lost or stolen is to contact the State Department. There are three different ways to do this, all available on the State Department website. If you haven’t left the U.S. yet, you can apply for a replacement passport the same way you would apply for a new one.
If your passport is lost or stolen in a foreign country, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and declare the passport missing or stolen. The embassy will be able to assist you in obtaining a replacement passport. The State Department website has a list of the documents you need to bring with you to the Embassy in order to obtain a replacement passport. And, it can be a good idea to travel with two extra passport photos in the event that you will need to get a replacement.
We hope this has been helpful in giving you some insight into the world of passports. If you have any questions, or want more information on a specific passport-related issue, feel free to contact us.