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From delayed flights to lost luggage, trips don’t always go as smoothly as we expect them to. One of the worst setbacks you can encounter is realizing your passport is about to expire right before you’re supposed to leave the country.

Not only does your passport need to be up to date to cross borders, but most countries won’t let you in if its expiration date is arriving within the next six months (Canada and Mexico are a little more lax, requiring three months of passport validity).

So before travel day is upon you, check your passport’s expiration date to see if you need passport renewal. And if it’s set to expire within the next three to six months, read on to learn how to renew your passport, step by step, so your international travels can go off without a hitch.

How to renew your passport in 4 easy steps

Although renewing your passport might seem daunting, the process is pretty easy. While you can’t do it online, you can complete passport renewal via mail.

If you’re wondering how to renew your passport, follow these four simple steps.

1. Make sure you’re eligible to renew your passport via mail

When it comes to passport renewal, most people complete the process via mail. But you’re only eligible if you’re truly renewing it.

If you need a new passport entirely, then you’ll have to apply in person. You’ll need a new passport if,

  • You’re getting your first passport
  • Your passport was lost or damaged
  • Your passport was issued more than 15 years ago or when you were under 16
  • You need to change your name but don’t have supporting documentation

As long as your passport is in decent shape and was issued when you were an adult, you can apply for passport renewal through the mail. Your next step will be to fill out the right form.

2. Fill out and download the DS-82 form

In order to renew your passport, you’ll need to fill out the DS-82 form. You can fill out this form online, download it as a PDF, and print it out.

Alternatively, you can download a blank form and fill it out by hand. First, this form asks you to double check that you’re eligible to renew via mail. You don’t need to send this checklist or anything; it’s just for your own reference.

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, you can read over details about how the form works and what information you’ll need to provide.

On page 5, you’ll start filling in basic personal information, such as your first and last name, phone number, and mailing address.

Next, you’ll enter details about your current passport, such as your passport number and date of issuance.

Finally, you’ll reenter some personal information and indicate additional details, like your height, eye color, and hair color.

Once you’ve filled everything out, print the form and add your signature and the date.

3. Gather documents you need for passport renewal

In addition to this DS-82 form, you’ll need a few additional documents to renew your passport. They are,

  • Your passport or passport card. You’ll actually mail off your expired or soon-to-expire passport along with your application.
  • A recent color photograph. This photo needs to be 2×2 inches and have been taken within the last six months. It must have a plain white or off-white background, and you can’t be wearing a hat or head covering (unless you have a signed statement that the garment is worn for religious purposes) or glasses (unless a doctor signs a statement verifying you can’t remove them for medical reasons). You can get a passport picture taken at CVS or a similar store.
  • A certified copy of your marriage certificate or court order if you’ve changed your name. You can’t send a photocopy, but don’t worry, this document will be returned to you.
  • Personal check or money order. Make this out to the U.S. Department of State, and include your full name and date of birth on the front of the check. You can’t send cash.

4. Send off your application and wait for your renewed passport

Once you’ve filled out your application and gathered your documents, put everything into an envelope and add the right mailing address.

Residents of California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, or Texas should send off their application here:

National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 640155
Irving, TX 75064-0155

Residents of all other states (or those who live in Canada) should send their passport renewal application here:

National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90155
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155

If you’re paying the extra fee to expedite your passport renewal, send your application to this address:

National Passport Processing Center
P.O. Box 90955
Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

Remember to write “expedited” on the outside of the envelope to ensure fast processing. The State Department also recommends shipping your application overnight and providing a pre-paid envelope for overnight delivery of your renewed passport.

Once you’ve sent off your materials, you’re all set! Assuming there’s no problem with your application, you don’t have anything left to do except wait for your passport (and keep planning your international adventure).

How long does it take to renew a passport?

In most cases, passport renewal takes four to six weeks. It could take longer if there’s a problem with your application, like an unsigned form or blurry photo, so make sure all your materials meet the standards.

If you need your passport sooner, you can pay an extra fee to have it expedited. Expedited passport renewal usually takes between two to three weeks.

Your other option is to apply in person at a passport agency (which you will also need to go to if you need a new passport or are ineligible to renew yours via mail). You can find a full list of passport agencies around the country on the State Department website here.

You’ll need to make an appointment online and have your materials ready to go. You can make an appointment online here or by calling the 24/7 appointment system at 1-877-487-2778.

You might also need to provide proof that you’ll be traveling out of the country soon. If you go this route, you might get your passport renewed within just eight business days.

Note that while you can’t apply for passport renewal online, you can check the status of your application online. Simply head to U.S. Passport Application Status and enter your name and Social Security number.

How much does it cost to renew a passport?

So how much does it cost to renew your passport? The standard U.S. passport renewal fee is $110 for your passport. You can also pay $30 for a passport card.

The passport renewal cost for expedited service is an extra $60. You can also pay a fee of $15.89 for one to two day delivery service.

Again, you’ll need to send a personal check or money order, not cash. Fill this out to the U.S. Department of State, and write your full name and date of birth clearly on the front.

How do you know it’s time for passport renewal?

Now that you know how to renew your passport, you might be wondering if it’s time to renew it. The main reason to renew your passport is if it’s already expired or set to expire within the next three to six months.

But there are other reasons to apply for passport renewal, too. If any of the following apply to you, it might be time to fill out that passport renewal form.

  • You’re running out of pages to stamp! If you’ve a frequent globe-trotter with tons of stamps and visas, you might need to renew your passport and request additional blank pages.
  • You legally changed your name. Even if your passport’s not about to expire, you might need to renew it if you’ve legally changed your name.
  • You look way different from your passport picture. If your appearance has changed drastically, you might be unrecognizable to border guards. Renew your passport so it has an updated picture that matches your current appearance (and won’t cause delays when you’re going through customs).

All these scenarios would mean it’s time to renew your passport. But if your passport is lost or damaged or you’re applying for the first time, you’ll need to apply for a new passport in person with form DS-11.

What to do if you’re living outside the U.S.

If you’re already out of the country and need to renew U.S. passport renewal, you’ll need to track down a U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. Each embassy has its own procedures and requirements, so contact yours about what you need to do.

In most cases, the process will be similar (fill out a form, submit a photo, pay the fee, etc). But you’ll probably have to make an appointment and complete everything in person.

The one exception is for people living in Canada, who can typically mail their materials to the same National Passport Processing Center as those in the U.S.

Don’t let an expired passport ruin your travel plans

If you’re getting excited for a big trip out of the country, the last thing you want is to find out your passport is about to expire.

Take a look at your passport, and put a reminder in your calendar a few months before it’s set to expire.

As long as you stay on top of it, you can complete your passport renewal easily and won’t have to pay the fee (or stress) about expediting the process.

Then you can use your passport the way it was meant to be used: as your ticket to cross international borders and explore our big, beautiful world.