11 Essential Passport Facts for Traveling in 2021 & 2022
Updated: Jul 18
It has never been so important to know the status of your passport's validity than now. This article will go over 10 crucial points you need to know if traveling this year or next year. I've included a problem that has been causing people to be forced to cancel trips and what you need to know so you don't have to cancel yours. Knowledge is power and I want you armed with the knowledge that keeps you from being disappointed.
Note: This article refers to the traditional U.S. passport “book,” not the passport card which has limited use.
When do you need a valid passport?
1. You must have a passport to board a plane departing the United States.
2. Except for closed-loop cruises from the U.S. to other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) participating countries, you have to have a passport to board a ship from the U.S.
3. While there is an exception in #2 above regarding proof of citizenship for cruising in some instances, we still strongly recommend passports. We have a few clients and there have been countless other travelers who regretted not traveling with a passport as it resulted in delays of days, a lot of extra unplanned expenses, or altogether missing their vacation when “stuff happened.” But this is a bigger conversation for a separate article.
4. Beginning May 3, 2023, you will need to travel with a passport, REAL I.D. or other approved identification to board an airplane to fly within the U.S. (Note: This information was updated when TSA changed the date from 10/1/21.)
Should you renew your passport now?
5. You want to check how long you have left until your passport expires. You don’t want the world to open up for travel and find yourself left behind because your passport expired while many of us felt like we were locked up.
6. Depending on your next trip’s destination, you may need for your passport to be valid for a while past your trip dates. Some countries have a "three-month validity" or "six-month validity" rule meaning that your passport must be valid for at least three or six months beyond the time you are set to depart their country. If yours doesn’t fill your visiting country’s requirements, you will be denied boarding your plane. This can be a costly mistake in addition to missing out on your trip.
Brazil, Ecuador (including Galápagos), Italy, Kenya, Thailand, and Turkey are among the long list of countries requiring six months. France, Germany, Iceland, and New Zealand are a few of the countries which require three extra months. Always check the latest requirements when starting to plan your trip.
How long does it take to get your passport?
7. U.S. mail and passport agency processing delays are severely affecting travelers right now. Routine processing of original and renewal applications, if they aren't lost, is taking up to 18 weeks. I'm talking about the post office AND the passport agency losing them. I've even read stories of two applications being sent in one package, but one mysteriously gets lost.
The U.S. Department of State is suggesting that everyone apply for passports at least six months prior to your planned trips.
Do NOT trust a court clerk or post office employee who tells you it will be processed more quickly.
Sadly, the delays have continued to grow since the pandemic started and I don't see any sign that there is accountability or processes taking place to get caught up.
8. "Expedited" passports are now taking up to 12 weeks to be processed and returned. There is an added cost of $60 over the normal passport costs. ($110 for adults, $80 for children under 16. Plus $35 execution fee for a first-time passport.) Because we don't know if the delays could continue to get longer or an application getting lost, I would suggest investing in expediting your passport if you are traveling within eight months even if it's only for the peace of mind.
9. Whether or not you pay for an expedited passport, I suggest that everyone pay for two mailing services. First, pay for a trackable mailing service when sending your application. Secondly, pay the $17.56 optional fee for the "1 - 2 day" return delivery of your passport.
I realize that these add on to the cost of an already expensive document for some people, but think of the cost of resting more easily about getting your passport and what's involved if you don't get your passport back in time.
10. Do not count on getting an "emergency" passport through one of the Passport Agency locations as some people have done in the past. You have to have proof that you are traveling internationally within 72 hours. There are a limited number of appointments offered. Some locations will only process an emergency passport for actual emergency-required travel which excludes booking a last-minute trip or not properly planning for an upcoming trip.
Keeping your passport safe
11. I’ve heard all kinds of stories from panicked people who are hours or days from packing for their trip. “Lost” and misplaced passports are the most common. Dropped in water (including the toilet) and dogs getting to them and chewing them (it’s a thing that’s less unusual than you’d think) are among the problems. If you don’t have a SAFE place to store yours, make that a priority right now. I have a fireproof box for important documents. My passport has a spot in the front of the box. I get it out when I’m doing my “travel documents” checklist while packing and, after the trip, it goes back in that box.
Here is a quick recap of the 11 points you need to know right now about passports:
1. You must have a passport to depart the United States.
2. There is an exception to requiring a passport for some cruises from the United States.
3. There are reasons why it is wise to ignore that exception and have a passport.
4. A passport can be used as an ID when traveling within the U.S.
5. Check your passport to see when it expires.
6. Your travel destination may have a requirement of your passport being valid for up to six months after your expected departure from their country.
7. Passports are now taking up to 18 weeks to be processed and returned to you.
8. Expedited passport processing is taking up to 12 weeks to be returned to you.
9. Invest in your passport by purchasing a trackable mailing service and expedited delivery.
10. Don’t count on being able to get an “emergency“ passport issued.
11. Keep your passport safe!
My passport is something I’m proud of. Having this document is, in my opinion, both a privilege and a responsibility. Knowing and following the above points will keep you appreciating yours rather than having it turn into a pre-trip stressor.
Here's one extra tip. Do NOT post the photo page of your passport publicly. I’ve seen this done too often. It offers an opportunity for your identity to be stolen.