More than 33 percent of Americans possess a valid passport, an unheard-of level of ownership when compared with the past 10 years. But what happens when your trusty document nears its expiration date. Make sure you renew your passport with enough time to have your new one delivered before next sojourn out of the country.
When you should renew
Knowing that the expiration date is approaching is the first step and you should start planning to renew your passport when it has less than a year remaining on it. You can officially start the process within the lifetime of the passport, although most people do this when the passport has one year to go. Note that if, for example, you send your passport in with eight months' life left on it, it will be sent back with those additional months added to the passport's normal 10-year span, minus any weeks it took for the processing. And also note that if your passport is lapsed, you can renew by mail up to five years after their original passport expires (as long as you are aged 16 or more).
It is essential to get a this jump on the renewal procedure in advance since many countries state that your U.S. passport has only six months left on it based on the date you are leaving, not the date you are arriving. Additionally, if you plan to spend a longer duration abroad, note that consulates and embassies outside the United States will renew your passports but take a dim view of doing so, since you have overstayed your welcome somewhere; although according to its Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs, the U.S. Department of State "issued 427,000 passports overseas, approximately 388,000 as non-emergency passports and almost 39,000 as emergency passports."
Note, the standard turnaround time for the regular U.S. passport renewal is 4-6 weeks, although the time it takes does occasionally vary.
The only thing you need to make sure your passport is always valid is this website. You will be directed to complete paperwork. There is no doubt: the forms are boring and complicated to fill in, and it is disconcerting for those who have long held a passport to send it in the mail and not have it with them. Fill all forms in carefully, go over them several times to avoid mistakes and send in all documentation via the post office or a secured mail carrier that can provide insurance and a mail tracking system.
And remember, when you get those new passport photos, do not smile when the photos are being taken. This is a no-no.
Speeding up the process
Sometimes you forget to plan ahead, or there might come an occasion when you don't have 4-6 weeks to kill before you need your new passport. You are not without hope; there are a new tricks to get your document in time. One is timing; for example, if you apply between Thanksgiving and the New Year, when there might be fewer international trips, it could save a week or so in the waiting time.
For those in a big hurry and with the green to back it up, the U.S. government offers a speedier option, known as expedited service, via government form Form DS-82, which involves an extra cost of $60. Or if you are in a really tight jam, any number of private expedited service providers, which also charge an additional premium, can help you out. Examples include Passport Expedited, U.S. Passport Services and U.S. Passport Now, but make sure and double check that any service you use is registered with the U.S. government. Some expedited services are very quick. For example, I received my U.S. passport 61 hours after I sent it off.
Another final option is to scope out Passport Day, the one day a year when anyone can enter their local passport office without an appointment. But even this needs planning - in 2011, it was cancelled for six months due to budget cuts. It was held in 2012, in March. Look for 2013's date - as long as the economy remains at least stable.