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. 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, such as serious illnesses or deaths 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
As of 2018, the government is processing requests for expedited passports in eight business days if you go through an agent. This means that you'll actually have to wait three weeks for door-to-door processing, and that's if you request overnight delivery and pay for overnight delivery both ways (to and from the passport agency).
If you can prove that you'll be heading abroad and need a passport to do so, you'll be able to head to your nearest passport office and ask to rush the process. In this case, proof means that you've already booked your flights and accommodation for your trip. There is an additional fee for expedited passports.
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 between 8:30 p.m. and 9 a.m.
This post has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.