Ins and Outs of Getting Your Passport in Order

(Kena Kai)
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009

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

How far in advance do I need to apply for a passport?

It 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 departure date. Another issue to consider: Some nations require passports to have at least four blank pages for visas and stamps.

Where can I find passport information?

The U.S. State Department is the official source, and the passport section of its Web site ( clearly outlines the process, requirements, fees, etc. It also includes updates, such as information on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and passport cards (see below for more information).

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 must state your current name or a name change that you can legally prove. In addition, if you are behind in child-support payments, your renewal could be stymied.

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