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How to Choose Between Routine and Expedited Passport Service

two signs that read "choice"

Routine passport service is the least expensive option but has the longest processing time. Expediting your passport application with the help of a registered passport expediting service is more expensive, but it can get you your passport in as little as 24 hours.

Since a valid, US Passport is essential for anyone looking to travel outside of the United States, you will need to evaluate your travel plans to decide whether a routine or expedited passport application will best suit your needs.

When weighing your passport options, there are four key factors to consider:

Your answers to the above questions will determine the most effective way of getting your passport application processed.

Overview of Passport Application Options

With a routine passport application, it can take 4-6 weeks (or longer) before your new passport is in your hands. For a fee, you can expedite this process and cut that time in half to 3 weeks.

If 3 weeks is still too long to wait, there are other options:

Each of these passport application options involves different procedures, timetables, costs, and considerations. Read on for a more in-depth breakdowns of each. This guide will help you both make the correct choice and follow the appropriate steps to avoid any potential delays.

The Routine Passport Application Process

Obtaining a new passport

You can get a new passport by completing a three-step process:

  1. Completing application form DS-11
  2. Gathering supporting documents:
  3. Visiting an application acceptance facility

That said, there are a number of potential obstacles along the way that can lead to delays and undue stress – especially if a departure date is looming. Applicants must be thorough in both assembling their supporting materials and planning so that they have a passport in-hand prior to actually needing one.

Timeline

The U.S. State Department suggests routine passport processing takes 4-6 weeks. These estimates may increase during busier travel times (like holidays, international events, and summer vacation). There are also warnings that unforeseen events like natural disasters could prolong the wait.

If you are planning to leave the country, routine passport processing should only be relied upon with a minimum of two months’ lead time – preferably more.

Where to go

Once you have a completed application, valid passport photo, and all of the required supporting documents, the next step is to bring them to an application acceptance facility. Usually, this will mean a trip to your local U.S. Post Office or any of the more than 8,000 acceptance facilities available nationwide.

Each applicant for a new passport is required to appear in person to submit his or her documentation and complete the application process.

Thankfully, most people should be able to find an acceptance facility within reasonable commuting distance. However, be sure to factor in hours of operation and commonly busy times to avoid wasting time in long lines. Some locations will allow you to call ahead for appointments or, at the very least, to get a suggested time to visit when lines are typically shorter.

Cost

The routine passport application process is the cheapest way for most Americans to get a passport (not counting some very specific cases where passports are issued free of charge).

The State department updates the passport fee schedules yearly.

Currently, the costs are as follows:

  • For applicants age 16 or older, a new passport book application costs $110. Adding a passport card is an additional $30.
  • Minors under age 16 can receive a new passport book for $80 and a passport card for an additional $15.
  • There is also a separate $35 execution fee that applies to all new applications (up from $25 prior to April 2018). By applying for a passport book and card simultaneously, you can avoid being charged this fee twice.

Renewal options

In most cases, the U.S. government has made it both cheaper and easier to renew a passport than to apply for a new one.

Applicants can apply in person or by mail using Form DS-82 as long as they have a passport that:

  • Was issued within the last 15 years
  • Was issued when you were at least 16 years of age
  • Was issued in your current name (or you have legal documentation of a name change)
  • Is not significantly damaged

Failure to meet the above criteria means that an applicant must apply for a new passport following the routine application process and paying the execution fee again.

When should you choose the routine passport application process?

  • You are applying for a passport or passport renewal at least two months prior to a scheduled international trip.
  • You are looking for the most cost-effective way to obtain a passport.

Expedited passport service options

If you need or want your passport faster, there are several ways to obtain one in significantly less time than the routine method.

Traditional expedited passport service

The State Department’s expedited passport service allows applicants a faster application processing option that mirrors the steps of the routine method. With just a few small changes and an additional fee, it is possible to cut the customary wait time for a passport in half.

Timeline

Expedited applications are typically processed in an estimated 2-3 weeks’ time. Nevertheless, applicants must still allow for potential U.S. Postal Service delivery delays that could create additional wait time.

Where to go

The process for obtaining an expedited passport is nearly identical to the routine passport application process. New applicants must still appear in person to submit their materials while renewals are still possible either in person or by mail.

Applicants seeking expedited service must indicate their request on their application and include the additional expedited processing fee with their payment. Expedited renewals by mail must be sent to the National Passport Processing Center in Philadelphia.

Cost

The traditional expedited processing service offered through the U.S. State Department adds an additional $60 fee to each application.

For example, this brings the total cost of a new passport book for an adult to $205. Similarly, an expedited adult passport renewal would cost $170.

It is worth nothing that opting for 1-2 day delivery service is available, but adds an additional cost.

When should you choose the traditional expedited passport process?

  • You are applying for a new passport or renewal for a trip that is between 3-6 weeks away.
  • You are applying for a new passport and have both the time and ability to travel to a passport acceptance facility.
  • You are renewing a passport but would prefer not to entrust your documentation to the U.S. Postal Service or a third party.

Rushing the expedited passport service

While expedited applications are handled in 2-3 weeks, sometimes that is still too long to wait. Applicants can take additional steps to speed up their passport application process further.

Timeline

Rushed passport applications can be completed within 14 days. This assumes there are no problems with the application, supporting documents and rationales are in order, and the rush request is approved.

Where to go

Getting a passport in under two weeks’ time requires a visit to a regional passport agency.

Applicants must make an appointment and bring proof of travel along with their application documents to qualify for rushed consideration. Failure to do so can lead to a substantial waste of precious time!

Unlike the thousands of passport application acceptance facilities, there are only a select few regional passport agencies nationwide. The limited number of locations means that many applicants have to travel significant distances to reach their nearest option.

Cost

The fee for an expedited passport application is the same whether the application is submitted to a regional passport agency or a local acceptance facility. That said, there are often other costs associated with a rush request.

For most Americans – particularly those far from a major city – traveling to a regional passport agency means incurring travel costs (transportation, food, lodging, etc.) as well as the potential loss of income incurred by taking the time off to attend an appointment. These types of expenses should be factored into the decision-making process when it comes to rushing a passport application.

When should you rush the expedited passport service?

  • You are applying for a new passport or renewal for a trip that is less than two weeks away.
  • You are applying for a new passport or renewal and have both the time and ability to travel to a regional passport agency.
  • You have a documented emergency that requires international travel.
  • You are renewing a passport but would prefer not to entrust your documentation to the U.S. Postal Service or a third party.

Utilizing a passport expediting service

There are a number of reputable and reliable passport expediting services that help passport applicants get passports as quickly as possible. These services serve as intermediaries between the customer and the regional passport agencies. Customers submit their applications and materials to the courier service which then delivers them to the passport agency on the customers’ behalf.

One major benefit to this approach is that these third-party services are often able to use their reputations and experience to “cut the line” and get their clients’ applications handled more quickly than traditional applicants.

This means that even if you live next door to a regional passport agency, and expediting service may still be able to get your passport application processed faster than you could on your own.

It should be noted that new passport applications require the applicant to appear in person – there is no way around this requirement.

Timeline

Reputable passport courier services like Fastport Passport can usually renew a passport in as little as 24 hours.

Where to go

In most instances, the only travel a courier service customer has to make is to a mailbox. The passport expediting service does the actual legwork. This is a huge benefit to those without the time or ability to travel to a regional passport agency.

Cost

Passport courier services charge additional fees on top of the regular application and expediting fees charged by the U.S. government. These fees often correlate to how quickly a customer needs a passport. The less urgent the request, the lower the cost.

Even with these fees, courier services may end up being a more cost-effective option than an applicant completing the process his or herself – especially for applicants living far from a regional passport agency.

When should you choose a rush passport expediting service?

  • You need to renew a passport quickly but do not have the time and/or ability to visit a regional passport agency yourself.
  • You calculate that visiting a regional passport agency would be more costly than a passport expediting service’s fees.
  • You would prefer to renew your passport or receive a new passport as quickly and easily as possible.

 

Weighing your options

Deciding upon the best way to apply for a passport doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Each of the four most common options come with clear advantages and disadvantages.

As such, returning to the original questions should guide you towards a clear choice for your particular needs:

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. It is always better to have a passport in hand sooner than you need it than too late!

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