Your guide to U.S. passports: Tips to make your next international trip as smooth as possible

In order to offer transparency into how our stories are produced and to teach our readers about the importance of media literacy online, the editorial team provides a quick self-rating of the integrity of the articles and the facts presented against the following IQ metrics.

  • Published on August 11, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Explainer

Don’t let uncertainty or apprehension over passport procedures stop you from traveling.

The belief that obtaining a passport is expensive and tedious may deter many would-be global travelers from grabbing a window seat to explore the world. Understanding how to get, renew and travel with your U.S. passport is the first step before taking your next (or first) global adventure. If you need to dust off an expired passport or to obtain your first U.S. passport, there is no need to worry; the process is quite simple and very well-detailed on The Department of State’s U.S. Passports and International Travel site. Before you start the process, check the travel document requirements for the country you intend to visit as a travel visa or additional travel credentials may also be required. According to U.S. Homeland Security, beginning in 2023, domestic travelers will need either a state-issued Real ID or a U.S. passport to travel domestically.

Passport Ready

Begin by completing the application for a new U.S. passport or renewal.

New Passport: Print out the completed form and take it to a passport acceptance agency (typically a U.S. post office with passport services) along with required identification documents.

Passport Renewal: Fill out the renewal application and drop it in the mail along with the expiring passport. In-person applications for renewal are not possible. Renew your passport at least six months before its expiration date.

Passport Book or Passport Card?

Which citizenship travel document is best for you?

Passport Cards: Althoughpassport cards are convenient, cheaper and often recommended for travel by cruise ship or to border countries, they aren’t used as travel documentation for any international flights. Even though passport cards can be used at U.S. land and seaports of entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, most cruise lines still encourage passengers to obtain passport books in case of an emergency requiring air transport home. All other cruise travel originating outside of the U.S. needs a passport book.

Passport Books: The preferred proof of citizenship and identity for international travel accepted as entry documents on all forms of global transportation.

Standard or Expedited Service?

Last Minute Getaway or Planning Ahead

In a perfect world, you should apply for your first passport or send off your renewal months before securing travel arrangements. However, this may not always be practical.

U.S. passport processing times have increased.

Routine: Approximately 8 to 11 weeks

Expedited: Approximately 5 to 7 weeks (passport acceptance agency or via mail)

Expedited through an Agency: 8 Business Days

Tips for Traveling with your Passport

Always lock your passport in the hotel safe, and have both paper and digital copies in case your passport is lost or stolen.

Download the Mobile Passport Control (MPC) secure app to zoom through customs border control when re-entering the United States. The MPC app is free compared to the $100 fee for the Global Entry program.

Know where the nearest U.S. Embassy is throughout your trip. Include this information with your travel itinerary and documents if you need to replace your passport while traveling.

Be sure to use a cover to protect your passport from the elements; a water-damaged passport is not valid for travel.

Carry your own passport; if the responsible member of your party is pick-pocketed, everyone’s passport might be lost.

Be sure to remove the passport book from your carry-on bag if you need to gate-check the bag; once you have arrived at your destination, baggage claim is typically after border control.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

This story was originally published August 11, 2022 9:00 AM.