Ready to renew that passport?

Last modified: 7/11/2015 11:43:00 PM
If you’re curious about why I haven’t been dishing up great travel advice and compelling stories of faraway places, there’s a reason. Bud and I have deferred overseas travel during the past 18 months while we concentrated on downsizing and settling into our new home at Stone Sled Farm in Bow.

Well, we’re done and we’re delighted with our new digs, but it’s time to get back in the skies. Alas, in checking our passports, I discovered that the expiration date was looming – December 2015. Time to renew!

The timing

If you haven’t heard, passports expire every ten years. But that’s only one critical date-related rule. If you’re headed abroad, you also need to be sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your return date. If it isn’t, you likely won’t be allowed to board your outbound flight. Trust me, we’ve seen it happen and isn’t pretty.

In fact, tour companies often won’t allow you to even book if your expiration date is prior to the date the tour ends. You’ll also need to allow six to eight weeks for the State Department to process your renewal. Sometimes it’s quicker, but better safe than sorry. Ours took seven weeks.

If you’re in a bind with an upcoming trip, you can try expedited renewal, but it’s costly and still takes more time and causes more stress than most of us like.

The choices

You have some choices when you’re applying for a passport renewal (or an initial passport). The first is whether to apply for just a passport book, just a passport card or both. A passport book is the familiar sturdy navy blue book with gold writing on the cover. It will take you over almost any border, whether you’re on a plane, in a car or on a boat.

A passport card, on the other hand, is a small card very similar in look and feel to your driver’s license. It will get you back into the U.S. over land border crossings or sea entry-ports from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda. If you’re trying to return home from any of those places by air, however, you’ll need a passport book.

The fee for a card is $30 for renewals or $55 for first-timers. A passport book will cost $110 or $135 for renewals or first-timers, respectively. We got both for $140. You can also choose to have extra pages stitched into your passport book – free! This is a real convenience if you’re traveling to places like Egypt, Cambodia, Thailand or many others that require visas, which often are large stickers that take up an entire page. They will not be issued unless you have a completely blank page available in your book.

The process

If you’re renewing, start with your old passport and a couple of new passport pictures. The post office, where you’ll send things off to D.C., will do the photos for you, but you have to wait for an agent behind the counter to free up – the passport office no longer has a dedicated employee.

If you’re a AAA member, start at the AAA office in Fort Eddy Plaza, get your pics taken at a discount, and fill out the forms there. They’ll even help decipher government-ese. Take your new pics, your old passport and your forms to the post office, write your check and send it off Priority Mail – tracking is critical. Then sit back and wait. Visit for details.

Our snazzy new passports are here. Next up? Global Entry so we can whiz through customs coming home.

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