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6 Passport Rules for Faster Renewal

Applying for or renewing a passport in a timely fashion might be easier said than done thanks to a massive surge in applicants that happens between January and August every year, but following some little-known passport rules might help.

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Do you know how to take a valid passport photo, for example, and which documents to include with your forms? Plus, recent changes may be taking the entire renewal process online.

Passport Rules You Need to Know

To increase your chances of a quick and painless renewal (or first-time application), follow these six passport rules.

Know When to Apply

The first step to passport renewal is recognizing when you need it. Know when your passport expires, especially if you’re visiting a country that requires six months of passport validity for you to enter the country, like Brazil and Botswana. Unique passport rules also apply to people who might not look like their photo anymore. The State Department says on its website that you’re responsible for the following changes to your appearance:

You may have to apply for a new passport if you have:

  • Undergone significant facial surgery or trauma
  • Added or removed numerous/large facial piercings or tattoos
  • Undergone a significant amount of weight loss or gain
  • Made a gender transition

Remove Those Glasses

These next two rules are for taking a valid passport photo, which can apparently be a somewhat difficult feat to accomplish. “Photos that do not meet our requirements are the number one reason applications are removed from standard processing,” Brosnahan told me. “We want to avoid delays as much as you do.”

The newest major change to passport rules is that glasses are no longer permitted in your photo. The rule took effect in November 2016, and of course, also applies to sunglasses. Other passport rules for your photo include its size, lighting, and that the backdrop is white or off-white. Check all the rules for taking a valid passport photo here.

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Smile, But Not Too Much

Yes, you can smile in your passport photo—just not too big. Passport rules for photos dictate that your face have “a neutral expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.”

“Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have a rule against smiling!” Brosnahan says. “We’re just looking for a natural expression with both eyes open, with a full front view of the face, that realistically depicts the passport holder.”

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Pay the New Fee

The State Department announced in early 2018 that some fees for passport processing are increasing by $10. According to Brosnahan, that includes “all first-time passport applicants, all kids under 16 (first time and renewals), and any adult that is renewing a passport that is over 15 years old. It does not affect anyone using the DS-82 form, which is a standard adult renewal and is done by mail.”

Renewing via mail will require a check or money order for the correct amount: Find the necessary fee amount according to your application type here.

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Don’t Forget Your Supporting Documents

Some passport renewal applications require you to gather supporting documents, like citizenship evidence or a signed personal statement. The latter is required if you wear religious attire that could otherwise deem your passport photo invalid, and people unable to remove glasses or other items for medical reasons can submit a doctor’s note for an exception.

Passport renewal also requires applicants to mail in their old passport, but don’t worry—you’ll get it back with your new one.

Keep an Eye Out for Online Renewal 

Anyone with internet access, rejoice: You might soon be able to apply for passport renewal without having to mail anything. Online passport renewal has been buzzed about for a while now, and  Brosnahan tells me “online passport renewal is a planned update which will be released in the near future.”

Online passport renewal could be a game changer for the application backlog just in time for the Real I.D. changes that might soon require some people to fly with a passport domestically—see if your state ID is affected here.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Shannon McMahon

Editor Shannon McMahon is always planning her next trip and often writing in her travel journal. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Shannon joined SmarterTravel in 2015. A former news reporter, she's lived in the south of Spain, spotted elephants in Sri Lanka, gone spelunking in the Caribbean, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, interviewed Sao Paulo's Michelin-Star chefs, and explored China via bullet train. Travel trends, news oddities, and her visits to up-and-coming destinations are some of her favorite things to write about.

Her stories have also appeared online on USA Today, The Sun, Huffington Post, Business Insider, blog.TripAdvisor.com, Boston.com, and more. Her educational background is in journalism, art history, gender studies, Spanish, and film. She's been quoted as an expert travel source by CNBC, People.com, MarketWatch, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Plenty of extra thick hair elastics. They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone."

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Email Shannon at smcmahon@smartertravel.com.

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