Passport Renewal: Everything American Travelers Need to Know

The passport renewal process can feel daunting. But, it doesn’t have to. While it’s not quite “simple” (is anything with the U.S. government?), it’s actually pretty straightforward. You just need to understand the required paperwork, the costs involved, and — above all else — exercise a little patience. Here’s the low-down …

Passport Renewal for U.S. / American Travelers

Before Renewing Your Passport: Guidelines & Considerations

A good rule of thumb is to always ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the date you enter a foreign country. In the event that there are any issues with overstaying your welcome (or your visa), this provides a bit of “cushion.” This isn’t true for every country, but it’s a safe bet that I personally swear by. So, if the expiration date on your passport is less than six months away, now is a good time to renew. Especially if you’re eyeing any upcoming trips.

Be warned that any travel visa(s) currently attached to your passport will be voided, so plan your trip accordingly.

Step #1: Get the Correct Passport Renewal Forms & Documentation

Like all things with the federal government, make sure you’re starting with the correct forms. If you’re applying for passport renewal by mail, the form you want is Form DS-82: U.S. Passport Renewal Application for Eligible Individuals (PDF).

If you’re applying in person (much easier since the clerk can verify you have all the correct paperwork), however, you’ll need Form DS-11. You’ll also need this same form in any of these cases:

  • This is is your first passport
  • Your last passport was lost or stolen
  • Your previous passport was issued more than 15 years ago
  • Your last passport was issued prior to age 16

You’ll Also Need …

  • Your old passport
  • The appropriate passport renewal fee (see below)
  • An envelope and stamps if renewing by mail

All applicants, whether renewing their passport or applying for a new one, also need two color passport-sized photos that meet these requirements:

  • They must not be more than 6 months old
  • They must be taken in front of a plain white background
  • You cannot be wearing glasses or sunglasses
  • No touchup software (i.e. Photoshopping or Snapchat) is allowed
  • You can only smile “naturally” or not at all
  • No selfies allowed
  • The photos must be in pristine condition (no folds, stains, or tears)

These are available at most convenience stores, pharmacies, or photography stores. Here in the United States, AAA also offers passport photography services to members.

Because you’ll need to temporarily surrender your existing passport, that means you won’t be able to travel internationally while your passport renewal is being processed. You can, however, get a second U.S. passport assuming you qualify. If you frequently travel internationally, this is a great option that will allow you to continue to travel while your passport renewal is being processed.

Step #2: Renew Your Passport

Regardless of whether you choose to renew your passport at the post office or by mail, it’s a good idea to photocopy or take photos of all your documents. This is especially true for any original documents like your existing passport and proof-of-citizenship papers.

Online Passport Renewal

If you were hoping to renew your passport online, sadly, you’re out of luck. You can fill out the appropriate renewal form online. But it will still need to be printed, then mailed or submitted in person.

Passport Renewal at the Post Office (In-Person)

If it’s an option for you, renewing your passport in-person is almost always the best way to go. You’ll find passport renewal services at your local post office or at any official passport acceptance facility. This helps minimize transit times to mail your documents and allows you to ask the post office staff any last-minute questions you have before submitting your renewal application.

Passport Renewal By Mail

Renewing your passport by mail typically takes a few days longer. Only checks or money orders are accepted as payment; credit cards are not an option.

A few things to note before mailing in your forms:

  • Use a trackable delivery method like USPS Priority Mail or Certified Mail.
  • Use a larger envelope that can accommodate all of your paperwork without folding.
  • There are different mailing addresses for normal (non-expedited) and expedited services. Be sure to address the envelope to the correct address:
Standard Service
(if you live in California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, or Texas)
National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 640155
Irving, TX 75064-0155
Standard Service
(if you live in any other state or Canada)
National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 90155
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155

Expedited Services (for all applicants — write EXPEDITE on the outside of the envelope):

National Passport Processing Center
Post Office Box 90955
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

How Much Does It Cost to Renew a Passport?

Whether in-person or by mail, renewing an adult passport book costs a flat USD $110. For expedited renewal, there is an additional $60 fee plus any additional expedited shipping charges (around $15).

You can score an optional passport card for $30. However, this can be only be used as identification for some domestic travel by air, and travel by land/sea in Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Just to be sure: while it’s a good backup, a passport card cannot be used to substitute a passport for air travel.

Step #3: Hurry Up and Wait … (But, Seriously, How Long Does It Take?)

The wait to receive your renewed passport can feel excruciating, especially if you’re itching to travel right now. But the federal government usually turns around passport applications fairly quickly. In general:

  • Standard passport renewals: 4-6 weeks
  • Expedited passport renewals: 3 weeks
  • Third-party passport agency: Usually 7 business days or less

These can change based on several factors, including the time of year, how busy the government is, and whether your application requires additional processing or scrutiny.

If you require guaranteed expedited service, there are third-party passport renewal services that can handle the entire process for you with lightning fast turnaround.

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Can’t Sleep in Hotel Rooms? Here’s How to Turn Yours Into a Fortress of Solitude

I overnight in up to 20 different hotel rooms each month. So I’ve become something of an expert in “hotel stay-ology”. (That’s a real degree. University of Phoenix confirmed it.)

According to a prominent study that I just made up for this post, we know travelers (want to) spend up to two-thirds of their vacations sleeping. But many can’t sleep in hotel rooms or, at the very least, have a hard time. With less than 10 minutes of first-day prep, you can save yourself hours of precious sleep.

Can’t Sleep in Hotel Rooms?

Are you constantly stricken with insomnia every time you crash at a hotel? First, start with our 6 Tips for Sleeping Well in a Foreign Place.

If that doesn’t work and you still find yourself wide awake in the wee hours checking for hidden hotel wall art or learning to bake muffins with the hotel iron, try these tips to turn your hotel room into a fortress of solitude.

Ask for an “Isolated” Room

Be sure to secure a room away from noisy things like elevators, ice machines, or heavy foot traffic. The best location is often at the end of a dead-end hallway, near the stairs.

Note that if you book your room through a third-party website (e.g. Expedia, Hotwire, etc.), you’re not likely to get the hotel’s choice rooms or have a say in where your room is on the property. In most cases, you simply get what you get.

Your best bet is to book directly with the hotel’s website and make sure you’re a member of their (often free) loyalty program. Loyal customers always get preferential treatment.

Hang the Do Not Disturb Tag

Once you make it to your hotel room, hang the Do Not Disturb tag immediately. Above all else, this is the first thing I do upon arrival. Housekeeping and others who hate letting people sleep may flat-out ignore that request, but it’s worth a try.

In some corners of the world (and in some, let’s call them “hotels of lesser repute”), hotels may simply not provide DnD tags. Which is why I travel with a generic one of my own that I’ve borrowed from previous stays.

For shorter stays of up to three days, hotel housekeeping will likely leave you alone if you hang the DnD tag. Anything longer and the front desk will call at some point to make sure you’re not dead.

Women sleeping on a couch
(This isn’t me, but she does look comfortable, no?)

Unplug the Hotel’s Alarm Clock

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve awoken at 3 a.m. because the previous guest must’ve worked nights at the cemetery and never turned off their own alarm. And housekeeping didn’t do it either.

Save yourself the hassle by unplugging the alarm clock immediately. It’s 2019 anyway — just use the alarm on your smartphone.

… and Unplug the Damn Phone

These days, I find the front desk increasingly likely to call out of the blue just to say hi and make sure everything’s ok. It’s a nice bit of customer service, but they have a knack for calling 30 minutes after check-in, just as I’m dozing for an afternoon nap. If you aren’t expecting any phone calls, unplug the phone.

Pack Some White Noise in Your Pocket

This one’s all about personal preference. Few things help me sleep like a baby like white noise: the hum of an air conditioner fan, a hard rain, the sultry voice of the Forensic Files narrator.

If you’re the same, download one of the many free “white noise” apps available for Android and iPhone. Or, if you’re the sort of hotshot who can afford to shop at Brookstone, opt for a dedicated white noise machine. The smallest ones (like this one from HoMedics) are affordable and packable.

Draw the Curtains the Right Way

Draw the curtains — both the inner and outer if there’s more than one set. But, for those of you who can’t sleep in hotel rooms, you knew that already.

The not-so-obvious pro tip is to always travel with a few paper binder clips (like these with strawberries and flowers on them). They’re small, lightweight, and practically free. And they keep you organized. But, for sleep purposes, they also close the inevitable gap between the curtains in your hotel room, blocking out all semblance of sleep-depriving sunlight.

Switch the Hotel AC/Heater Fan to “On”

Again, if you’re a light sleeper and/or enjoy white noise, you probably loathe the constant switching on/off of your hotel room’s HVAC system. To me, this is the bane of my hotel existence. It’s nails on a chalkboard.

The solution? Switch the HVAC system fan to “On”. Most systems have two fan settings: “On” or “Auto”. I switch it to “On” to make sure it’s not clicking on/off all night (as is this case in “Auto” mode).

Ear Plugs. All the Ear Plugs.

Right after my passport and a couple of nips of bourbon, the next thing that goes into my carry-on is a pair of earplugs. Seriously, I don’t understand how anyone — particularly those who can’t sleep in hotel rooms — travels without them. They’re cheap, packable, and comfortable (I recommend these).

Spray Your Bed

Some fancier hotels (Crowne Plaza comes to mind) are investing in signature scents. Partly for branding, but also because they have a measurable calming effect on hotel guests.

Find a scent that calms and relaxes you. Peppermint and other mint scents are a good place to start. Pack a small spray travel bottle of it and spritz your bed before lying down each night. It won’t work for everyone, but even a little sleep advantage is better than none.

(Full disclosure: I don’t actually use this tip because I only travel with Axe Body Spray and that doesn’t calm anyone. But, there is some science to back it up, and in the fancier hotel rooms in which I’ve stayed that do this, it seems to help.)

Still Can’t Sleep in Hotels?

If you’ve tried all of these tips, but still can’t sleep in hotel rooms? Sorry, there’s no hope for you. I’d try Ambien and a few glasses of Shiraz.

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