How to Make Sure Your Papers Are in Order

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008

Applying for a passport can be a confounding experience. Here are some answers to common questions.

Q. How much advance time do I need to apply for a passport?

AIt can never be too soon -- whether or not you have a foreign trip planned. Obviously, with a passport in hand, you can leave with little notice. However, if your passport is nearing its expiration date, renew as soon as possible, because some countries require passports to be valid six months after a traveler's entry or return date. Another issue to consider: Some nations require passports to have two to four blank pages for visas and stamps.

Where can I find passport information?

The U.S. State Department is the official source, and its Web site ( clearly outlines the process, requirements, fees, etc. It also includes updates, such as information on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Electronic Passport. (See box for more details.)

Can I apply by mail?

Not if you're a first-timer. Mail-ins are for renewers whose old passports are not damaged, stolen or expired, and were issued within the past 15 years. The passport also must have been issued after your 16th birthday, and there must be no name change that you cannot legally prove.

To renew a passport, in a padded envelope send a DS-82 application form (available on the State Department's Web site, at post offices and at travel agencies; see below), your most recent passport, two identical 2-by-2-inch passport photos and a $75 check made out to the U.S. Department of State. If your name has changed, also include a certified copy of the legal document specifying the change (e.g., marriage license, adoption papers, etc.).

Mail to National Passport Processing, P.O. Box 13408, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101-3408. If you use a mail service that does not deliver to post office boxes, send to National Passport Processing, Attn: Department 13349, 1617 Brett Rd., New Castle, Del. 19720.

You can also request extra visa pages in your passport for no additional cost; attach a signed request for additional pages with your application. Your new passport should arrive within four to six weeks, barring a natural disaster or other unforeseen incident. If possible, the department recommends applying outside the peak period of January through July. And fret not: Your dog-eared, stamp-plastered passport will be returned for future gloating purposes.

Who must apply in person, and what is the process?

If any of the following apply to you, then head to your nearest passport facility.

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