If you want to travel internationally, you'll need a passport, specifically, a passport booklet to fly internationally, or a passport card if you plan on arriving by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda.
Applying for your passport can be an exciting yet frustrating experience. The most frustrating part of all? The waiting.
The U.S. government generally processes passport applications between four to six weeks after you've sent off your details, including mailing times. If possible, apply for your passport in low seasons for travel, like fall and mid-winter for faster processing times. The worst time of year to apply is during March or April when most people are making summer vacation plans and applying for passports. Summer applications can have delayed processing times, too.
You can apply for an emergency passport in life-and-death circumstances. This includes serious illnesses or death in your immediate family that require you to travel abroad within three business days. You'll need to have numerous documents in-hand, such as a death certificate (potentially translated into English), a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional. These passport applications require an appointment with the U.S. Department of State.
Expedited Processing Time
If you want or need your passport or passport card in sooner than eight weeks you can apply for an expedited passport processing method. From door to door, the process will take between two and three weeks. There is an additional $60 fee, on top of the regular application fee. When requesting expedited processing you also have the option of standard deliver or one to two-day delivery. If you choose standard delivery expect your passport to take up to five business days to reach you. Overnight delivery costs $16.48 and your passport will likely be returned without the supporting documents. If they're not with the passport, those documents with be returned by first class mail.
If you need your passport or passport card even sooner you can have it processed in 8 business days or less. There will be an additional $60 fee and you have to go to a passport agency or center to submit the application. In order to be eligible for this ultra-expedited processing you have to provide proof of international travel within two weeks, or within four weeks if you also need a visa. In this case, proof means that you've already booked your flights and accommodation for your trip. If the trip is because of a life-or-death emergency or other urgent international travel, the passport agency will do its best to get you a passport in time for your trip. There are only 27 passport agencies in the United States, so leave this option as a very last resort.
Passport cards, though, cannot be shipped using overnight delivery; they're always shipped out to you using regular first class mail.
All passport fees are nonrefundable.
Check Your Status Online
It generally takes between seven and 10 days for your passport application to be trackable online. It could, however, be a little shorter if you paid for expedited service and sent your application by overnight delivery.
You can gauge your application's progress by looking online at the Department of State's website. Be prepared to enter personal information to identify yourself, including:
- Your last name, including suffixes without punctuation, except for hyphens (example: Smith III, Crislip Jr, Jones-Smith)
- Your date of birth in the following format: MM/DD/YYYY
- The last four digits of your social security number
Check Your Status by Phone
You can also check your application status by phone at 877-487-2778 (888-874-7793 for anyone who has impaired hearing). This service is available between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (excluding federal holidays), but the Department of State says the best time to call is after 8:30 p.m. and before 9 a.m.