There's no time set in stone for getting a passport, but if you're planning a trip overseas, a few simple guidelines will help you determine how early you should start the process.
Once you make the decision to travel, it's never too early to begin checking the documents you'll need and gathering your information for getting a passport.
A general rule of thumb: do it as early as you can.
Unless you have the supporting documents you need at easy access, you should begin assembling them at least 6 months before you plan to travel.
Not only will you save time, money, and frustration by getting a passport well before you travel, it makes no sense to wait until you have other pressing travel needs [which you will] closer to the time of travel.
All U.S. passport documents are issued by the U.S. Department of State.
But before doing that, check this information for a complete overview of the process, along with the forms you'll need.
From the DOS site, you can either download your application, print it and fill it out by hand, or complete it online then print the completed form.
If you prefer a more hands-on process, you can pick up paper applications for U.S. passports, along with complete instructions, at over 6,000 passport acceptance facilities around the country.
In most cases, the most convenient acceptance facility is a U.S. Post Office.
Note: Not all post offices have authorized personnel to process passport appli-cations, or they may not offer the forms.
Check with your local P.O. to find out which ones near you provide passport assistance.
If there's not a post office near you that provides passport services, there will be other acceptance facilities for getting your passport convenient to where you work or live.
You can locate these by accessing this page of the DOS website and doing a cus-tom search for your area.
You can find a passport acceptance facility near you by either zip-code or city & state.
First time passport applications must be presented in person at a passport accept-ance facility. In order to complete the application process, you must
Once you find the acceptance facility you plan to use, check for hours someone is available to accept applications. Hours can be different from normal opening and closing times, as passport personnel devote only a portion of their work day to passport responsibilities.
After submitting your application for processing, you should allow a minimum of 6-8 weeks to receive it during low season or slower travel periods.
Although DOS processing times are suggested as being somewhat shorter than this, there are no guarantees for the time you'll receive it.
Always add a cushion of time beyond those suggested by the DOS website. The time it takes to process can vary significantly, depending on the time of year and number of applications being handled.
If you apply during busy travel periods like the summer or holiday peak season, add several additional weeks to suggested processing times.
The goal when getting a passport is to have time to spare, so your document will be in hand well before your time to travel.
By adding an additional 2-4 weeks to the suggested processing times, you will eliminate the stress and angst of hoping your passport will arrive in time. It's also possible you'll save substantial dollars, if your passport is delayed, and you have to track it down.
Then be pleasantly surprised, if you receive it sooner than expected.
Also, if you need a travel visa you'll need to add an additional 2-3 weeks for each visa you need, to allow for sending your passport to the respective embassy for issuance.
Travel visas are issued by the countries you hope to visit that require them. For each visa you need, you'll need to send your passport to that country’s Embassy or Consulate for processing.
Although the most convenient location for getting a passport is usually a post office, there are other passport acceptance facilities throughout the country.
Clerks of Court, along with many State, County, and City Municipal Offices will accept a completed application.
Some public libraries and non-private colleges or universities also accept U.S. passport applications.
Acceptance facilities are widespread, so no matter where in the country you are, you should have easy access to one or more locations.
Additionally, there are 23 Regional Passport Agencies in the U.S., plus a Special Issuance Facility in Washington, D.C.
These agencies review and verify the documents that accompany your passport application. If accepted, they then process your application and issue your passport.
For standard processing, passport applications are submitted through a passport acceptance facility, then directed to one of these regional agencies.
However, it's possible to visit a regional passport agency in person under certain circumstances, usually if your time before travel is short. There are specific guidelines you must follow, when going directly to a regional agency.
Generally, only travelers who need a U.S. passport within two weeks [proof required - such as a purchased airline ticket], or who also need an international visa for travel within four weeks, are allowed to submit a passport application directly to a regional passport agency.
If this is your option based on time constraints, you must make an appointment to appear in person during the specific times the agency has hours available to the public. These 'public hours' are limited and differ by agency.
You must call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 to make an appointment or speak with an agent during normal business hours.
General passport information [in automated form] is available at the same number 24 hours a day, or by email via their website.
You can request information, check the status of your application, or email passport questions at NPIC@state.gov.
Getting a passport is serious business. It requires timing and coordination, attention to detail, as well as dedicated follow-through to get it done properly and in a timely manner.
Thousands of Americans follow the process and obtain their U.S. passports quickly, cheaply, and with a minimum of hassle each year.
You, too, can do it yourself!
You can use the money you save for an extra day traveling, a better hotel to stay in, a special meal to celebrate, or a not-to-be-missed adventure in Europe, or wherever your travels take you.
Please see our other articles with updated information on current passport application procedures: