If you want to travel outside the United States, you're going to need a U.S. Passport from the U.S. Department of State.
According to the State Department, over 21 million passports were issued last year (and 2017). Overall, there are 137.5 million passport holders out there. Some are traveling the world. Others are collecting dust.
But if you want to join of the 128 million international traveling citizens, it'll cost you.
I recently had to renew my passport because it was expiring at the end of this year. If you're planning on traveling within six months of your passport's expiration date, you'll have to get it replaced first. Countries don't want to let you in, have you overstay your trip, and then manage to get stranded without a passport!
Fortunately, the process is not hard and not terribly expensive.
U.S. Passport Types
First, let's cover the two different types of passports – a Passport Book and a Passport Card.
A Passport Card looks like a driver's license and is a wallet-sized card that allows re-entry into the United States at land border-crossings and ports-of-entry by sea via Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.
A Passport Book is what most people think of when you say a passport. It's a small booklet with a semi-rigid dark blue cover and it allows for re-entry anywhere.
Should you get a U.S. Passport Card or Book? The card is much cheaper, the full fees are below, but both documents are good for 10 years (once you're over 16 years old) and if you can spare the expense, it's often better to get the book. If, however, you know you're not going to do a lot of travel and you only need it for a trip into Canada, for example, then the card is better because it is still cheaper.
You can get both but I don't see the benefit of paying extra for the card. The book gets you everything you need and you might as well save your money for actual travel.
U.S. Passport Fees
When it comes to the cost of a passport, there are several parts to the fee for first-time applicants and renewals:
- Application Fee: This is the fee for the application itself and paid to the U.S. Department of State.
- Execution (Acceptance) Fee ($35): The facility that accepts your application, such as the post office or library, will collect $35. When you are applying for the first time, you must go through an acceptance facility. You don't have to do this for renewals.
- File Search Fee ($150): When applying for your passport, you have to provide proof of citizenship. If you don't have these documents, you'll have to pay for and request a File Search to confirm citizenship.
There are also ways to get the passport faster and those come with fees too:
- Expedite Fee ($60): If you are not in a hurry, routine service will get you a passport in 4-6 weeks. If you pay to have the process expedited, it'll be done in 3-4 weeks.
- 1-2 Day Delivery Service ($16.48): For books only, you can get the book shipped faster.
|Passport Type||Application Fee||Execution Fee|
|First-Time Adult Passport Book||$110||$35|
|First-Time Adult Passport Card||$30||$35|
|First-Time Adult Passport Book + Card||$140||$35|
|Adult Passport Card|
(when you already have a book)
|Adult Passport Book (renewal)||$110||$0|
|Adult Passport Card (renewal)||$30||$0|
|Adult Passport Book + Card (renewal)||$140||$0|
|Minors (Under 16)|
|Minor Passport Book||$80||$35|
|Minor Passport Book||$15||$35|
|Minor Passport Book||$95||$35|
Unfortunately, unlike Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, there is no way to get a credit card to cover your passport fees.
What is the Fastest Way to Get a Passport?
If you don't need it in at least 4-6 weeks, you can submit it through an acceptance facility or mail it in using routine service.
If you need it in fewer than 4-6 weeks, you can pay for expedited service and go through a facility or mail.
If, however, you need it within 2-3 weeks then you'll have to go to a passport agency or center.
If it is a life or death emergency, you can get a passport within 72 hours if bring the application and its supporting documents, proof of the life or death emergency, proof of travel itinerary, and schedule an appointment with an emergency passport service at the closest U.S. embassy or consulate.
How to Save Money on a Passport
There aren't too many levers to push when it comes to the cost of a passport. You can save money by taking your own passport photo, rather than paying for one. You can also save a little bit if you plan ahead of time (after 6 weeks) and avoid the Expedited Fee.
But unfortunately, you can't escape the Application Fee or the Processing Fee. Those are a required part of the passport process.
If money is tight, you can always get a Passport Card and $80 compared to the book. It's far more restrictive in where you can use it but if you know you'll only be traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean then you can save the $80.