Everything Your Need to Know About Getting, Renewing, and Replacing a U.S. Passport

  • Luke Armstrong
Dec 04, 2015

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, because you have GPS in your phone, 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 and staring out the window with the knowledge that soon you'll board a plane that will whisk away to a waiting world of undiscovered marvels.

But hold your horses lil Magellan. First you'll need a passport.

In this article

You'll learn everything you need to know about getting a passport, renewing a passport, and replacing a passport if it is lost or stolen. If you're an American with a passport, able to move about the globe, you're one of less than half of Americans who have a passport.

1. How Do I Get a Passport For the First Time

To apply for a passport for the first time, 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, maybe she'll know where it is.

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

  1. A completed but unsigned passport application (a DS-11 form in State Department speak).
  2. Proof of citizenship, ideally a government issued birth certificate. If you're unable to locate this, other options that will work 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. Proof of identity. This you should already have in your wallet or purse. Acceptable proof of identity are a naturalization certificate, driver's license, military, or other government issued ID.
  4. Passport photograph. Don't you dare give the camera your wild man of Borneo face! 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.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Passport and How Much Does a US Passport Cost?

Officially, passport processing takes four-five weeks. Actually, it usually takes three. But give yourself ample time and if you're trip is contingent upon your passport application going through, purchase trip protection insurance. For an extra, $85, you can get an expedited passport in five days, or less based on specific need, such as needing to be present for a funeral.

A US passport costs $110, which I consider a steal. A passport remains valid for a decade, so that's $10.10 annually to travel about the globe. Well, that and however much the trip cost. But if you want, you could just travel for free.

2. How to Renew Your Passport

This bullet point is going to be a short trip. Renewing your passport is much easier than obtaining your first one, because you do not need to figure out where in the buffalo hell your birth certificate is. You go into the passport center with a photo ID, your old passport, fill out a form and your new passport should arrive within two to three weeks. You're set for another ten years… Unless you lose your passport! Then what? Read on.

3. What to Do if You Lose Your Passport

Here are a few things you should do before you ever get into this situation. Have a photo copy of your passport somewhere other than your passport. 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.

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. Click here for a complete listing of U.S. Embassy and Consular offices.

They 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.

To replace a passport abroad, the US government asks for the following:

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. Life is an adventure. Losing your passport is one of the most overwhelming things faced on a trip abroad, but I've known people who's lost passport led them to adventures, friends, and romances they never would've encountered had they not been interrupted by the loss of their passport. 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 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.

So without getting too much philosophical wax all over my keyboard, let's suffice it to say that even mishaps like losing a passport are par for the adventurous course.

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

Read more of Luke’s blogs Visit Luke's website travelwritesing.com

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