Preparing your vacation? Here's what you should know about U.S. Passports and Real IDs (2024)

If you're planning to travel outside of the country anytime soon and still need a passport, you're going to want to have a game plan prepared.

While there are guidelines and workarounds in place for passport applications and renewals before you get dropped off at the airport, an unprecedented backup in travel documents has caused delays that will make planning a necessity.

In the 2022 fiscal year, the federal government received nearly 19 million U.S. Passport applications, which is a sharp return to pre-pandemic levels after receiving less than 12 million in the 2020 fiscal year.

According to a USA Today report, deputy assistant secretary for passport services Rachel Arndt said Bureau of Consular Affairs staff members are "working thousands of hours of overtime," with more lines and people being made available at the National Passport Information Center in order to handle the influx of calls received regarding passport applications.

A quick visit to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Website will show a yellow box urging people to contact them if they have urgent travel.

"We understand some customers are facing extended wait times when calling the National Passport Information Center," the website reads. "We are taking steps to improve the experience."

Here's what you need to know before embarking on your next vacation.

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How to get a new passport

If you need a new passport, and are not eligible to renew an old one, you will need to apply for a passport in person at a passport acceptance facility or a regional passport agency with a DS-11 application form.

According to the passport information center, there are 4,500 passport acceptance facilities throughout the U.S., making them far more common than passport agencies or centers. They can include post offices, clerks of court and public libraries, and these locations offer both routine and expedited passport services. You can find the closest passport acceptance facility to you online.

If you are traveling urgently, though, try a regional passport agency such as the Philadelphia location. These offices can provide urgent passport services for international travelers in life-or-death situations, but you will have to call ahead and provide evidence of your travel needs in order to make an appointment.

Along with a completed DS-11 form, you will need the following to apply for a passport

  • Original proof of citizenship
  • An acceptable photo ID, such as a driver's license
  • A photocopy of both your citizenship document and photo ID
  • An acceptable passport photo, though many passport acceptance facilities take the photo for you
  • Money for your passport fees

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How to renew your passport

According to the state department website, if you already have a passport that is is expiring soon or already expired, you may be eligible to renew it by mail if the following is true about your recent passport:

  • The old passport can be submitted with your renewal application
  • There is no damage other than "normal" wear and tear
  • It was never reported lost or stolen
  • It was issued to you at age 16 or older
  • It was issued under your current name, or with documents proving a name change such as a marriage certificate
  • It was issued within the last 15 years

To renew your passport by mail, you must fill out the DS-82 application form and include your most recent passport, a valid passport photo, passport renewal fees and other necessary documents with the application when you mail it in.

For New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents, you can mail your application to the National Passport Processing Center post office box in Philadelphia. If you want your services expedited, write "EXPEDITE" on the outside of the mailing envelope and include the necessary fees inside.

Preparing your vacation? Here's what you should know about U.S. Passports and Real IDs (1)

When should you get or renew your passport?

If you're looking to travel out of the country in the future, you're going to want to make sure you have idle time to get your documents in order.

If you're applying for a new adult passport, the Bureau of Consular Affairs cautions awareness of the length of processing times.

As of March 2023, routine processing took between 10 and 13 weeks, expedited between 7 and 9 weeks, which requires a $60 fee, as well as an expedited at agency option that requires an appointment and international travel within 14 calendar days.

It's important to remember that the processing times don't include mailing times. The Bureau advises those looking to get their passport to consider that mailing can take up to 2 weeks to and from the passport agency or center.

Preparing your vacation? Here's what you should know about U.S. Passports and Real IDs (2)

How to get your passport faster

While there are basic timelines for passport applications and renewals, you may find yourself in a position of unexpected or emergency travel.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs processes your passport application depending on how soon you're expecting to travel and what service you've selected in your process.

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Emergency and urgent travel

Emergency travel should be selected if you have a life-or-death situation that requires international travel with 72 hours or 3 business days. All passport agencies offer limited appointments for this, but you must call to make the appointment and be ready to provide proof of the emergency and travel.

Select urgent travel if you are traveling internationally within 9 weeks. If you haven't applied, you'll need to make an appointment at a passport agency within 14 calendar days of your international travel date. If you've already applied, the appointment should be scheduled within 5 calendar days.

Pay for fast shipping

When mailing in an application, you can purchase Priority Mail Express from the United States Postal Service, though pricing will vary depending on where you're mailing from. You can also choose to include a $19.53 payment for 1-2 day delivery when your passport is sent back to you, though this service isn't available if you're only requesting a passport card.

What to know about Real IDs

If you've stopped by a DMV or MVC or updated your license, you may have noticed an option for a Real ID.

Beginning on May 7, 2025, you won't be able to access government or military installations, enter nuclear powerplants, or, most importantly, board domestic flights without upgrading your driver's license or state-issued ID to Real ID status, according to USA.gov.

Certain states may have varying requirements for obtaining your real ID, but at minimum you must be able to provide documentation with your full legal name, date of birth, social security number, two proofs of address of principal residence, and lawful status.

Visit Pennsylvania's DMV website for information on Real ID requirements.

And in New Jersey, visit the state's MVC website for details on Real ID.

Don't get scammed!

If anyone's promising you a quick turnaround on that passport application for a large sum of cash in the name of convenience, you should probably steer clear.

  • Avoid websites, online ads and social media posts advertising sped up passport processing.
  • Don't fall for sites asking for payment in bitcoin, wire transfers or gift cards.
  • Remember that you don't have to pay for a passport appointment or form.
  • Don't apply for a passport online. Real passport forms must be printed and mailed.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs encourages anyone who is aware of or may have been a victim of passport fraud to contact PassportVisaFraud@state.gov.

Preparing your vacation? Here's what you should know about U.S. Passports and Real IDs (2024)

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