Planning on going abroad this year? Stop reading (after this sentence) and check your passport’s expiration date. In the next three years, CNN reports, 49 million passports are going to expire. U.S. government officials have been warning that there will be a flood of requests from now through 2018, possibly leading to delays. So get ahead of the crowd while you still can.
What Is Going On?
In 2007, a law went into effect that requires U.S. citizens to use a passport when traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Passport requests skyrocketed—18 million were issued in that year alone. And because they’re only good for a decade, all of those passports are up for renewal right now.
But that’s not the only reason to get a jumpstart on your renewal process. Many European countries won’t accept travelers visiting within six months of their passport’s expiration date—so your decade-long passport really only lasts nine years now. And stateside, the REAL ID Act goes into place on January 22, 2018, which requires more stringent ID checks for domestic flights. Carrying your passport could easily satisfy these new requirements.
How Do I Renew?
Renewing your passport is relatively painless, although you still can’t do it online (except by paying a lot of money to an expediter service). It costs $110 and you can do it by mail if you already have a passport. If you don’t, head into an acceptance facility in person. And do it long before your trip—the process can take up to six weeks (or longer) because of the influx of requests.
If you’re not going farther than Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, save yourself a little cash. You can get a passport card for only $30 if you already have a passport book. You can only use it to re-enter the U.S. from those four areas, and only by land or sea; it is not valid for international air travel. It does make a good travel ID card, however.
1. To renew your passport via mail, you’ll need a completed DS-82 Form, proof of identity, certified proof of citizenship, one 2-by-2-inch passport photo and $110 by check or money order.
2. Requirements for children under 16 are more stringent (and cannot be done via mail), so budget additional time to go in person to an acceptance facility with your minor before your next international trip. And remember, their passports are only good for five years, not the ten that adults have.
3. Some countries require a certain number of blank passport pages. If you travel frequently, check you have enough. As of 2016, you can’t add pages to your passport book so if you travel a lot, consider checking the box for a 52-page book (at no extra charge) when you renew.
4. In select domestic airports (including San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta and Miami) you can download a Mobile Passport app that allows you expedited screening.
5. The U.S. will issue passports with new safety features in late 2017 or early 2018. An embedded data chip, color-shifting ink and more intricate engravings will make one harder to forge. If you can wait to get your new passport, hold off until the new passport is in circulation.