Passport Rules and Tips

Jul 11, 2015
U.S. regulations require a passport for almost all travel outside the United States. Below, Travelzoo’s Newsdesk provides some answers to frequently asked questions about passports.

When are passports needed?

All U.S. citizens traveling outside the United States by air, land or sea must have a valid U.S. passport.

A passport is not required for citizens travelling to U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For cruise passengers departing and arriving at the same U.S. port, a passport is recommended, but it is acceptable to use both a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate (for destinations in Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, the Bahamas or Bermuda).

Note: A passport card, a lower-cost alternative to a passport, can be used for entries to the U.S. by land and sea, but is not valid for air travel.

Will children or infants need passports?

Yes, there is no minimum age.

How long does it take for a passport application to be processed? What if I have urgent travel plans and have no passport?

On average, the application process takes about six weeks, but because of the backlog it can take as long as three months. There are ways to expedite this at additional cost.

Are there better times to apply to make the process faster?

More than 110 million U.S. citizens hold passports, which means a lot of your neighbors do not. You can beat them to the punch by applying between September and December, traditionally a slower period for new applications.

How much do passports cost?

Fees are $135 total for people age 16 and older; $105 for those younger than age 16. For adults renewing, the fee is $110, and for minors it is $105. For expedited service, it will cost an additional $60 plus express shipping charges. You can pay by credit card at a passport agency. If you go to a passport acceptance facility, you must pay the cost with a check or money order. You can then pay the processing fee portion of the cost (the $25 fee) with a money order at all locations – or with a check at some locations and with a credit card at the USPS.

Can I apply for a passport online?

New passport applications must be completed in person at a facility handling passport applications (to save time, you can fill out the forms online, print them and bring them in). Many -- but not all -- post offices can process passport applications, and some can take your passport photo as well for an additional $15. Renewals can often be done by mail; see the U.S. Department of State website for details.

There are third-party passport services online, but here you sign an affidavit allowing them to handle the paperwork for you. You will still have to appear in person at a passport acceptance agency to sign the forms. Fees for these companies can range from $40 to off the charts, in addition to the government fees.

What kind of photo do I need?

Applicants must submit a color photos, 2 inches x 2 inches of your head looking directly at the camera with a plain background. In other words, no glamour shots. Many commercial copy centers, such as FedEx Office, are set up to take and print passport photos.

Which government agency should I turn to for more information?

The U.S. Department of State. Visit its passport website for more information.

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