It's every traveler's worst nightmare: Getting ready for a big international trip, pulling out your passport … only to find it's expired – or will soon. Trust me, it can be a simple and relatively easy to take care of through the Urgent Travel Passport Service.
With our honeymoon just a month or so away, my wife and I panicked as we realized her passport would expire within a few months of our trip to Tanzania and Kenya – two countries that, like many, require at least six months of passport validity for an entry visa. If you search for “last-minute passport” like I did, you'll see far too many third-party companies offering to shepherd you through the process for exorbitant fees of up to $800. Don't bite!
So long as you live near a U.S. passport agency location (or can make a quick trip there), you can work straight through the government's own Urgent Travel Service, which is meant for instances when your international travel is too close for traditional expedited passport service but you don't have a life-or-death emergency that requires a last-minute passport.
After about 90 minutes of work and $190 total, my wife's new passport was ready – and our honeymoon went off without a hitch. Here's how to get a last-minute passport.
How Fast Do You Need a Passport?
How far away you are from your date of travel is the most important factor in what kind of renewal you need for your U.S. passport.
If you need to travel tomorrow, you'll need an emergency or urgent travel appointment. If you aren't flying another two months, a routine passport renewal will do (and you can soon renew your passport online, too!)
Here are the types of passport renewals:
Emergency Passport Renewal
Emergency passport renewals are for travelers who have life-or-death emergencies that requires international travel within 72 hours, according to the state department.
There are limited appointments set aside for this service at every passport agency, and you must call to make an appointment like you do for Urgent Travel Service. To qualify for this passport expedition, you need to prove a qualifying life-or-death emergency and prove you have upcoming travel.
The cost is $60, plus the standard $130 cost of your passport book.
Urgent Travel Passport
Urgent Travel Passport Service is the route we took, and you don't need a good excuse to take advantage of the service. Our excuse: I'm a bonehead and forgot to check our passports while planning our honeymoon…
According to the state department, you can use this service if you have international travel plans within 14 days.
Travelers must schedule an appointment with an agency by phone and provide proof of travel with 14 days. Importantly, you can also use the Urgent Travel Passport Service within 21 days of travel if the country you are traveling to requires a visa. That is what we did for our trip to Tanzania and Kenya, as both required visas for American travelers.
The cost is $60 plus the $130 cost of your passport book.
Expedited Passport Renewal
Expedited passport renewal is for travel within three to five weeks.
Notably, the state department says processing times begin as soon as your application arrives – not the day you mail your application. For this reason, it's important to do the application online. More on that later.
The expedited passport service can be done at an acceptance facility or by mail. The cost, again, is $60 plus the $130 cost of renewing your passport.
Normal Passport Renewal
If your travel is more than six weeks away, you may want to use the traditional passport renewal service.
The state department says routine passport renewal takes six to nine weeks to process. It can also be done by mail, at an acceptance facility, or soon, online.
How to Make an Urgent Travel Passport Appointment
So let's say you're traveling soon and need to use the Urgent Travel Passport Service. How do you go about getting an appointment?
The first thing you need to do is call the national passport agency phone number … but the timing of your call is important.
The agencies will only make you an appointment if you call within 14 days (or 21 days, if you need a visa to enter the country you're visiting) of travel. If your trip is 15 days away, you may not be able to make an appointment.
The phone number for the U.S. Passport Agency is 1-877-487-2778. I'd recommend calling right away in the morning like we did to make sure you get your desired appointment time.
It's important to note that the person who is requesting the passport must be the one who calls and shows up for their appointment. This is a way to ensure that third-party services cannot book up all the appointments from people who need them.
Passport Agency Locations in the U.S.
There are 26 different passport agencies throughout the United States. All of them are located in major U.S. cities, which means you might need to travel to one if you aren't located nearby.
For our Urgent Travel Passport Service, we used the Minneapolis location. Here is a list of the Passport Agency locations in the United States:
- Little Rock, Arkansas (Hot Springs)
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Buffalo, New York
- Chicago, Illinois
- Denver, Colorado (Cherry Creek)
- Stamford, Connecticut
- Dallas, Texas
- Detroit, Michigan
- El Paso, Texas
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Houston, Texas
- Los Angeles, California
- Miami, Florida
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- New York, New York
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- San Diego, California
- San Francisco, California
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Seattle, Washington
- Burlington, Vermont (St. Albans)
- Washington, D.C.
- Tuscon, Arizona
You can find the full list, with addresses, hours of operation, and phone numbers at the State Department website.
How to Prepare for Your Urgent Travel Passport Appointment
Once you call the passport office and make your appointment, you'll receive an email confirmation of the appointment. This will include the location of your appointment, the time, and any other building entry requirements there might be.
It will also include a detailed list of the things you need to bring to your appointment.
What to Bring to Your Urgent Passport Appointment
As is always the case with travel, more is more. Bring everything and anything you need to identify yourself or prove your travel to your appointment just in case. But here is the absolute minimum.
A Completed Passport Application
The first thing you need to do after you hang up the phone to schedule your appointment is to fill out the passport application online. You don't have to do this part online, but it helps speed up the process and reduce any errors you might make while doing it by hand. Luckily, doing this online is really simple using the “form filler” tool.
You can find the U.S. Passport online application here and fill it out in a matter of minutes. You'll need to print it upon completion and bring it to your appointment.
If you are renewing your passport, you will need your old one to fill out the application.
You will also need a new passport photo – even if you are just renewing your passport … and this is not as easy as it seems. There are some strict rules for what you can use for a passport photo, but the state department pretty clearly outlines them on their website here.
For instance, you cannot take your photo of yourself (no selfies), you cannot wear eyeglasses, you must have a plain white or off-white background, you cannot retouch or digitally alter the photo, and you have to have a “neutral” face expression.
You can use the state department's photo tool to see if your photo complies.
Passport renewal fees are pretty reasonable and are the main reason why we decided to get my wife's passport urgently renewed on our own instead of using a service to do it.
In total, the Urgent Travel Passport Service will cost you at least $190. That includes the usual $130 passport book renewal fee plus another $60 for Urgent Travel service. If you need 1-2 day delivery on your passport if you applied through the mail, that will cost another $18.32.
If you're applying for a passport for the first time as an adult (16+), you must pay a $35 execution fee and then the $130 passport book fee.
If you renew your passport at a passport agency, like you would using the Urgent Travel Service, you can use credit cards, checks, money orders, or cash to complete the transaction, too.
Proof of International Travel
In order to be eligible for Urgent Travel Passport Service at your appointment, you need to prove that you're traveling within 14 days (or 21 days for countries that require visas). That means you need to print out your travel itinerary with your name on it and bring it to your appointment.
As always with travel, I would adhere to the “more is more” rule and bring your entire itinerary in case anyone at the agency has any questions.
If you are renewing your passport using the Urgent Travel Passport Service, you also need to bring your old passport to the appointment.
Name Change Documents (if needed)
If you are changing your name on your passport, you need to bring all the requisite name change documents to the appointment as well.
If you have an emergency passport appointment, you also have to bring your proof of “life-or-death emergency” to the appointment, along with your upcoming travel booking.
If you are getting an Urgent Travel passport for a child under 16, both of the child's parents have to be at the appointment.
Read more: How to Get a U.S. Passport for a Baby
How Long Does it Take to Get Your Passport?
If you get an Urgent Travel Passport appointment, the agency will get you your passport before you travel, whenever that is. That's the beauty of these in-person appointments.
In our case, my wife had her appointment exactly 15 days before our trip. Her meeting was very quick and easy, and the passport center in Minneapolis said her book would be available for pickup the next day. When she arrived the next day, they told her to come back again the next morning after a snafu. She was there right when they opened the following day and picked up her shiny new passport booklet.
In total, it was about 36 hours from the passport appointment to when her new passport was ready for pickup.
Make sure to take into account any time it will take to travel to and from the passport agency for both the appointment and the passport pickup when you're booking your Urgent Travel Passport appointment.
I still wouldn't recommend waiting until a month before an international trip to check your passports. But if it happens to you, getting a last-minute U.S. passport doesn't have to be stressful or expensive – and you definitely shouldn't use an expensive third-party service to get it done for you.
After realizing that my wife's passport would expire too soon for us to get a visa for our honeymoon to Tanzania and Kenya, we were able to get an Urgent Travel Passport Service appointment and a brand new passport for her all in a matter of days. The entire ordeal cost $190.