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When to Start a Renewal of a U.S. Passport | Frommer's Duntrune Studios / Shutterstock

When to Start a Renewal of a U.S. Passport

Mail-in processing of passport renewal takes as long as three months, so it's crucial to know how soon you can apply to renew. The good news: A new digital renewal process is on the way, and you can sign up now.

Although the event didn't get a lot of attention at the time, in December 2021 President Joe Biden signed a new executive order that will allow Americans to renew their passports online in a matter of days (see Sec. 4 of the official text). 

That development is a big deal for regular travelers because until now, when a passport reached the end of its validity, citizens had to mail the old booklet to the government and wait weeks or months for a renewal.

Many countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months past your visit dates, so waiting until you have six months or fewer left will make it impossible to visit some destinations. But if you start your renewal at the one-year mark, which is the earliest the State Department will allow you to begin renewal, you'll ensure that you'll get your new booklet with enough time and space to keep it valid for most places.

Think of an adult U.S. passport as being good for nine years, not 10, because that final year before expiration is fraught with validity exceptions, and renewals are currently prone to delays.

Based on this timeline, we recommend that in 2022 you begin your passport renewal process when your existing document has one year to nine months left on its validity. Any later than that, and you risk not receiving your new passport in time to visit a country with a six-month validity rule.

Sending an old passport away wasn't such a big deal when the turnaround time for receiving a replacement was only a couple of weeks. But now that the wait for processing can 6–8 weeks (according to the U.S. State Department's own estimates as of June 2024), sending your passport away for renewal makes it impossible to travel internationally for as long as two months while you wait for your new booklet.

Even with online renewal, which doesn't require trips to the post office to mail documents, the State Department says citizens shouldn't plan any international travel within 8 weeks of submitting a renewal application.

The new digital renewal system accepts only a small number of applicants each day, and the list is set to Eastern time, so apply early in the day at this link.

To be eligible to renew online, You must be at least 25 years old; the passport you're renewing must have been issued between 2009 and 2015 but not more than 15 years ago; your name, gender, date of birth, and place of birth must all remain unchanged; you must live in the U.S. at a U.S. address (and not be abroad).

Even if you aren't game to sign up to preview the digital renewal system, this year it's still a good idea to begin the mail-in renewal process when your existing passport hits the nine-year mark and there's a full year left until it expires.

You may also like: Online Passport Renewal is Back in the U.S.! Here's How to Get In On It