Before you can set out on the journey of your dreams, you’ll need to get your passport. We just received ours and can’t wait to start filling up the pages! Here’s some tips and things we learned during the process that might be helpful.
It typically takes 6 to 8 weeks to receive your passport after you apply. Don’t wait until the last minute! There is an option to expedite processing for an additional $60, which still takes 2 to 3 weeks and requires you to apply at a regional Passport Agency or Center, which may mean travelling quite some distance, depending on where you’re located. It’s much easier to apply at a Passport Acceptance Facility such as a local post office.
Make An Appointment
Many Passport Acceptance Facilities and all Passport Agencies or Centers require appointments. There are some Passport Acceptance Facilities that are first come first serve but it’s best to call ahead to confirm. We initially went to a first come first serve location at the main post office in Reno, only to find that it was a madhouse and we gave up after waiting for about 2.5 hours in line. We then went to another post office the next week but didn’t realize they required appointments to apply. Luckily, the worker at the counter had an open slot and was able to fit us in, but otherwise we would have had to schedule an appointment and come back later. You can find out where to apply and get contact information for your local facility on the US Dept of State website.
Bring Your Old Passport (If You Have It)
It’s much easier to renew a passport since you can renew by mail without having to go to a Passport Acceptance Facility in person. However, the passport must have been issued to you when you were 16 or older and must have been issued within the last 15 years (see all requirements for renewal here). Even if your old passport doesn’t meet these requirements, you should still bring it with you when applying for a new passport since they will ask for it. If your passport was lost or stolen, you’ll have to fill out additional paperwork to document what happened.
Photocopy Both Sides of Your Driver’s License
I thought I was so well prepared by making photocopies of our licenses in advance (a requirement to be submitted with your application). When we arrived, we were told we had to photocopy both sides of the license, not just the front. Again we were in luck, since they were able to make new copies for us. Make sure you bring all the necessary documents listed here. Most facilities will be able to take your photo on site, but make sure to check ahead on that as well.
Apply on a Weekday During the Day
We tried applying on a Saturday at the one facility in Reno that was open. This was a mistake. The line was like Disneyland during peak season. After waiting about 2.5 hours and not moving very far, we decided to give up and try again on a week day. I had to take a day off work but it was worth it. We went in the morning, got right in, and the whole process took less than an hour.
Be Prepared to Mail Your Birth Certificate
This part was a little scary in this day and age of identity theft. You will have to mail an original copy of your birth certificate with your application. You will receive it back by mail as well, separately from your passport. This was a little nerve-wracking but there’s not much you can do about it, although there is a way to apply without a birth certificate.
It’s OK to Smile!
I used a neutral expression for my photo because I thought you generally weren’t supposed to smile for identification photos. However, the worker who helped us told my wife she could smile so she did and had no problem getting the passport approved.
Make Two Copies
Before travelling, it’s a good idea to make a copy of your passport and leave it with someone you trust who can send it to you later if your passport is lost or stolen while overseas. You should also take a second copy with you, either electronic (on your phone, laptop, etc.) or a hard copy stowed away in your carry-on bag (since checked luggage could be lost or tampered with). This makes it much easier to file a report at a US embassy or consulate and obtain a replacement.
We hope these tips are helpful! Before applying, make sure to review the requirements thoroughly on the US Dept of State website. It’s also a very good idea to check their travel information for countries you’ll be visiting so you know if you need a travel visa or to find out other important information like local laws, safety information, and so on.
If you’ve applied before, what tips do you have for getting a passport? Let us know in the comments!