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What to Know About Getting, Renewing, and Replacing a U.S. Passport

Luke Armstrong | Feb 15, 2023

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You've done it. On your wall hangs a map of the world, with pins sticking out of the countries you plan to visit. You have waterproof Gore-Tex hiking boots that can tread through mountain streams and out of midnight saturnalia. Though you'll never need it thanks to your phone’s GPS, you ordered a rustic-looking compass from Amazon. 

When no one else is around, you've been posing in the mirror with your new 80-liter pack. You’re eager to plan a trip to Europe, a visit to Australia, and a hike through South America. Soon, you'll board a plane that will whisk you away to a world of undiscovered marvels.  

But hold your horses, lil’ Magellan. First you'll need a U.S. passport.

In this article

You'll learn everything you need to know about getting a U.S. passport, renewing a passport, and replacing a passport if it is lost or stolen. In fact, fewer than half of all Americans  have a valid U.S. passport. With the details below, you’ll be on your way to an adventure in no time.

1. How Do I Get My First Passport?

To apply for a passport for the first time, you’ll need to go to a Department of State Passport Agency. But first, gather all the documentation you'll need for a passport.

Before you can begin the process of getting a passport, ask yourself, "Where the hell is my birth certificate?" Is it in that stack of loose papers you've been meaning to go through since the days of your Motorola Razor phone? Nope, you can't find it in there. Call your mom; she might just know where it is.

For a first time passport application you'll need six things:

  1. A completed but unsigned passport application (a DS-11 form, in State Department speak).

  2. Proof of U.S. citizenship, ideally a government-issued birth certificate. If you're unable to locate this, other options include a hospital birth certificate (which you can get from the hospital where you made your debut,) or early school records, accompanied by a birth record, birth affidavit, or a government-issued letter noting that no birth record can be found.

  3. Photocopy of proof of citizenship, to be kept by the passport agency.

  4. Proof of identity. You should already have this somewhere in your wallet or purse.
    Acceptable proof of identity could be a naturalization certificate, driver's license, military, or other government-issued ID.

  5. Photocopy of proof of identity, to be kept by the passport agency.

  6. Passport photograph. Don't you dare give the camera your meanest mug! Uncle Sam wants you to "look directly into the camera with a neutral expression." Most issuing offices allow you to take photos in-house, so there is rarely any need to make a separate trip for your passport photos.

Keep in mind that if certain special circumstances apply to you, you may need more documentation. See the State Department website for additional details.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Passport and How Much Does a US Passport Cost?

Officially, passport processing takes between six and eight weeks. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can take as few as three. No matter your optimism, give yourself ample time. 

For an extra $60, you can also get an expedited passport in five days or less based on a specific need, such as needing to be present for a funeral.
A new U.S. passport costs $110, which I consider a steal. A passport remains valid for a decade, so that's $11.00 annually to travel about the globe. Well, that and however much the trip costs. But before you begin planning a trip abroad, remember that you could just travel for free.

2. How to Renew Your Passport

Renewing your passport is much easier than obtaining your first one, because you do not need to figure out where your birth certificate is. In most cases, you should be able to renew by mail. Simply fill out a renewal form (DS-82), and send it to your designated Passport Processing Center, along with the following:

  • Your old passport.

  • Any name-change documents (if applicable).

  • A new passport photo.

  • A check or money order for $110, made out to "U.S. Department of State."

In some cases, you may be required to apply in person: make sure to check the State Department website for details. After your renewal has processed, your new passport will arrive by mail. 
From there, you're set for another ten years … Unless you lose your passport! 

3. What to Do if You Lose Your Passport

Here are three things you should do before you ever get into this situation:

  1. Have a photocopy of your passport somewhere other than your passport. 

  2. Take a photo with your phone of the photo page of your passport and email it to yourself with the subject "passport copy" so you can easily find it in the event your passport is lost or stolen.

  3. Whenever you travel to a new country, take a photo of the new stamp in your passport and email that to yourself.

You are supposed to notify the US government immediately upon learning that your passport has been lost or stolen. Make sure though that you didn't just misplace it, since once a passport is reported lost or stolen, it is invalidated and can never be used for travel again.

If you are in the United States and lose your passport, make an appointment at the passport agency so that you can have it replaced within five days. You will need to fill out a DS-64 form, to report it lost or stolen, which you can now do online. Then you will need to fill out a DS-11 form in person at the passport agency. If you will be traveling within the next two weeks, be sure to apply for an expedited passport.

If you lose your passport abroad, you have some hoops to jump through, but being prepared in advance will make this process much easier.

First, get in touch with your embassy or nearest consular office. A complete listing of U.S. Embassy and Consular offices can be found online.

They’ll ask for the following documents, and while they will work with you if you cannot procure them all, it's a great idea to travel with scans of all of these in your email, and to know where they are at home so that if you need them mailed or faxed, someone can do that for you.

  • A passport photo.

  • Identification (driver's license, expired passport etc.).

  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of your missing passport).

  • Travel Itinerary (airline/train tickets).

  • Police Report, if available.

  • DS-11 Application for Passport (may be completed at the time of application).

  • DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport (may be completed at time of application).

If your passport was stolen, it is also helpful that you file and provide a local police report surrounding the circumstances of your passport's theft.

One way to help mitigate the frustrations of losing your passport is to opt for trip protection insurance, which generally covers the expenses associated with replacing a lost or stolen passport.

Above all, don't let the stress of losing your passport ruin your trip. Losing your passport is one of the most overwhelming things faced on a trip abroad, but I've known people whose lost passport led them to adventures, friends, and romances they never would've encountered otherwise. 

I met my Aussie friend Amanda while helping her get a replacement passport when hers was stolen from the hotel safe in Ometepe, Nicaragua. Amanda was set to leave Nicaragua in the next few days, but she had to wait two weeks for a replacement passport. I checked up with her and she was having the time of her life, happy that circumstances led to where they did.

Even mishaps like losing a passport are par for the adventurous course!

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