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  • Writer's pictureMichael Rovner

What you should know when obtaining your first passport

Note: The information in this article is current as of May 2023. This article is not meant to be an exhaustive list of travel requirements and information is subject to change. You are encouraged to visit the website of the U.S. State Department and the embassy of your host country for the most up-to-date information on foreign travel requirements.

Americans are returning to international travel in droves, and the U.S. Department of State has the data to prove it. In 2022 they issued a record 21,995,760 passport books (inclusive of passport cards). This year the State Department is on track to surpass that record with The New York Times reporting the department is receiving about 500,000 passport applications each week, a 30% increase from the same period in 2022. Such demand has pushed passport processing times to a whopping 10 to 13 weeks for routine processing and seven to nine weeks for expedited processing!

In this blog post, we break down what this news means for you as a student traveler and how you can ensure your passport application doesn’t ground your study abroad experience:

1. Check travel requirements for your destination country and check your passport

If you are traveling outside of the United States you will need a passport. However, sometimes having a valid passport is not enough. Many countries require that your passport will be valid six months or longer from the date you plan to depart the country. In other words, if you are planning to return home from your study abroad experience in December 2023, certain countries will require your passport be valid through June 2023. If you have been approved to study abroad this fall, check the website of the embassy of your host country in the U.S. Foreign embassies in the U.S. are your source for the most up-to-date entry requirements for your host country. Once you understand your country’s entry requirements, begin the process of acquiring the necessary documents. This includes applying for, or renewing your passport. Be aware that some documents may need to be acquired sequentially (e.g., you will need a valid U.S. passport before you can apply for a foreign visa).

2. Apply or renew your passport today: don’t delay!

Routine passport processing times currently stand at 10-13 weeks, a figure that does not include the time it takes for your documents to travel through the mail or time needed to correct errors on your application. This means that if you mail your documents to the State Department on May 15 and request routing processing, you may not receive your passport until September.

3. Options for Expediting

Do not despair if your program requires you to be on campus in the fall. There are various options at your disposal for expediting the process, albeit, options that require more time and/or money than routine processing:

  • Expedited Mailing: To save on mailing times, you can mail your passport application to the State Department using the U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail Express product (prices start at $28.75 and vary depending on where you live relative to the passport intake centers). To save time on the other end of the process, the State Department will mail your passport to you in 1-2 days for an additional $19.53.

  • Expedited Processing: The fee to apply for or renew a passport with routine processing is $130. The State Department also charges a $35 “execution fee” for first-time applicants. For an additional $60 the State Department will expedite your application, which drops processing times to 7-9 weeks

  • Urgent Travel Service: If you are traveling abroad within nine weeks, you can make an appointment within 14 days of your travel date at a passport agency or center. While there is no additional fee to apply at a passport agency or center, these 26 offices operate by appointment only and the State Department does not guarantee an appointment will be available. Additionally, the 26 offices are scattered throughout the country and one may not be located near your home or school. For this reason, starting early enough to use the routine processing service is your best option.

If you need assistance applying for a passport, please consider attending one of First Trip’s passport workshops. If you need financial assistance, First Trip also offers a passport voucher to a select number of students with demonstrated financial need to cover the $130 application fee. The voucher does NOT cover passport expediting fees.

Applying for foreign travel documents can feel daunting, but you are not alone in this process. Various resources including those from First Trip, your school’s study abroad office, and the State Department exist to help you navigate the process and get up in the air in no time!

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