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How long does it take to get a passport?

Leave plenty of time, as it's not always easy to know how long it takes to get a passport from the U.S. State Department.

A passport book, like the one above, takes about six weeks to process. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
A passport book, like the one above, takes about six weeks to process.

Applying for and receiving a passport takes less time than you might think. Typically, the U.S. government takes four weeks to process a passport application. This timeline is even shorter if you pay additional fees to expedite the process. Keep reading for a clear overview of the passport process.

Passport Basics

There are two types of passports: a passport card and a passport book. Passport cards are wallet-size documents that can be used for travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. They cannot be used for air travel. As of February 2008, the cost of a passport card is $45 for adults and $35 for people under the age of 16. A passport book has no travel restrictions. Choose this option if you are planning to fly overseas. A passport book costs $100 for adults and $85 for people under 16.

To apply for a passport for the first time, you will have to go to an official Passport Center. There are more than 9,000 Passport Acceptance Facilities located in the United States. These facilities include certain post offices, public libraries, clerks of court, and other state, country, township and municipal government offices. You can find the nearest facility on the U.S. Department of State’s Web site. To apply, you must visit one of these designated facilities and bring an Application for Passport, or Form DS-11. You can also download this form from the U.S. Department of State. Additionally, you’ll need to present proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a previous passport or birth certificate); proof of identity (such as a state-issued identification card); and two identical 2-by-2-inch photos taken within the past six months that reflect your current appearance. You will also need to pay the passport fee and provide your Social Security number.

Expedited Passport Service

If your travel date is rapidly approaching and you still have not applied for a passport, or if you unexpectedly need to travel and do not have a passport, you can expedite your application. Anyone can request expedited service for any type of application (including first-time applicants, renewals, etc.) In addition to regular fees, you will have to pay an additional $60 per application plus overnight delivery fees. Clearly mark “expedited” on the envelope. Two-way overnight delivery is strongly suggested.

The government recommends overnight delivery for any service -- such as first-time application, renewal, additional pages or name changes -- to receive your passport as quickly as possible. If you choose the expedited service plus overnight delivery option for sending and receiving your passport, your application will be processed in a two-week estimated time frame. As of June 16, 2008, expedited passport processing takes five business days from either the day your application was received by the Passport Center, or, if your application is already with the Passport Center, the date from which your expedited request is approved.

If you are traveling or need to get your passport for a visa within 14 days, you can call the National Passport Information Center at 877-4USA-PPT (877-487-2778) and schedule an appointment to apply in person at a passport agency.

How to Get a Passport in an Emergency

If you have an emergency that involves serious illness, injury or death in your immediate family that requires you to travel within 24 to 48 hours to a country where you will need a passport, you must appear in person at a Passport Center. Documentation of your emergency may be requested. Call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 (TTY/TDD 888-874-7793) to schedule an appointment. If an appointment that meets your needs is not available, stay on the line and follow the instructions to speak with a customer service representative. If you are calling during a federal holiday and cannot reach a customer service representative, call 202-647-4000 and explain your situation to the operator.

Checking the Status of Your Passport Application

You can check the status of your passport application at the U.S. Department of State Web site. Currently, it takes between five and seven days for applications to be tracked online. If you paid for expedited service, it may take less time to track your application status.

With a little planning, applying for and obtaining your passport should be a fast, smooth process. Just remember to bring all of your application materials (Form DS-11, proof of U.S. citizenship, proof of identity, two photographs, your Social Security number and your application fee) with you when you apply. Customer service representatives are available to provide additional help if you need it. And don’t forget: You can check the status of your application online.

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