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18 minute read

Essential Knowledge: Passports and REAL ID

October 13, 2023

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.

  1. Passport and REAL ID basics
    1. When do I need to use my passport?
    2. What is REAL ID, and how does it affect me?
    3. How do I get a REAL ID?
    4. How has COVID-19 affected passports and REAL ID?
    5. Where and how do I get a passport?
    6. How long does it take to obtain a passport?
    7. What is a passport card, and is it right for me?
  2. Passport validity and renewal
    1. How long is my passport valid?
    2. When should I renew my passport?
    3. How do I renew my passport?
    4. How long does it take to renew my passport?
  3. Passport security
    1. How do I keep my passport safe?
    2. What do I do if I lose my passport?


Passport and REAL ID basics

Below are the answers to some basic questions about passports, government-issued IDs, and the REAL ID security program.


When do I need to use my passport?

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.


What is REAL ID, and how does it affect me?

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.


How do I get a REAL ID?

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.

Some state ID-issuing facilities will allow you to submit your identity documents online before going in person to the facility, so be sure to ask if your state allows you to do this.


How has COVID-19 affected passports and REAL ID?

    1. All passport agencies and centers are now open for business. Visit the State Department's dedicated webpage to see the status of your nearest passport facility.
    2. State Department passport agencies currently offer only two appointment types: Urgent Travel Services and Life-or-Death Emergency Services. Both appointment types are in-person. Regardless of reopening stage, the State Department will be prioritizing in-person appointments for customers who need a passport in the next three business days for “life-or-death emergencies.” Passport facilities work on an appointment-only basis for all customers; walk-ins are not allowed.
    3. You can renew your passport by mail if you meet certain passport eligibility requirements. Visit the State Department’s website to see if you qualify for mail-in passport renewal. If you do not qualify, you must apply in-person. Check with your passport facility to see if you need to make an appointment to submit your application in-person.
    4. As of October 13, 2023, renewing a standard passport book by mail costs $130 and purchasing a new passport book costs $165. Expedited service costs an additional $60. You cannot pay online and must mail a check if renewing by mail.
    5. We recommend applying for a passport (or passport renewal) at least 3-4 months before your planned travel date, so please make note of this and try to get your application in sooner rather than later. Routine processing for passport renewal is currently between 8-11 weeks, not including mailing times (which can be combined total of up to 4 weeks).
    6. As previously mentioned, the REAL ID deadline is May 7, 2025. We recommend obtaining a REAL ID sooner rather than later, as the pandemic has put a strain on the departments responsible for issuing passports and REAL IDs.


Where and how do I get a passport?

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 of October 13, 2023, applying for a first-time Passport Book costs $165, and a passport card costs $65.


How long does it take to obtain a passport?

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.


What is a passport card, and is it right for me?

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.


Passport validity and renewal

Whether you’ve just obtained a passport or have had one for years, it’s important to know when your passport expires and how to renew it.


How long is my passport valid?

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.


When should I renew my passport?

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.


How do I renew my 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.


How long does it take to renew a passport?

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.


Passport security

Your passport is the most important travel document you own. Here’s how to keep it safe, and what to do if you lose it.


How do I keep my passport safe?

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.


What should I do if I lose my passport?

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.

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