When You're In a Hurry to Get Where You're Going
One of the unfortunate features of life in a security-conscious world is that you can't go anywhere out of the country without a current, valid passport. That can present a problem if you have an unexpected opportunity to travel internationally, or if you have a passport but forgot to renew it. It's not just you—this is a fairly common situation—so the State Department has a well-established process for people who need a passport in less than the usual six to eight weeks. The fees vary depending whether it's a new application or a renewal. Further, depending how quickly you need your passport, you might have to apply in person.
A Basic Expedited Passport
If you need your passport in less than the usual six to eight weeks, but not within the next two to three weeks, apply in person or by mail. To expedite by mail, complete the appropriate form —DS-11 for a first-time application, or DS-82 for a renewal —and mail it with all the required supporting documentation. You'll pay the standard fees of $110 for a passport booklet and $30 extra for a passport card if you want it, plus a $25 "execution fee" if this is a first-time application. You'll also pay an extra $60 fee for the expedited process, and you need to write the word "EXPEDITED" on the outside of the envelope in big, bold letters.
You can also apply in person at a passport acceptance facility near you, which is the same process but saves mailing time. For an additional $15.45, whether you apply by mail or in person, you can have your passport shipped to you by overnight courier once it's processed. Passport acceptance centers are public locations such as post offices, libraries and state or municipal offices which are authorized to accept applications on behalf of the State Department.
If You're In a Real Hurry
If you'll be traveling in less then two to three weeks, or need a visa in less than four weeks, you can still make it happen. To get your passport in time, go in person to the nearest passport agency or center. These are regional centers operated by the State Department in a couple of dozen locations across the country, where Department staffers handle your case directly. The only difference here compared to the regular process or the ordinary expedited process is that you'll need to provide documentation of your travel arrangements to illustrate why you need high-speed processing. In a life-or-death emergency, the agency can have you on your way in 72 hours or less. The cost for getting your passport expedited remains $60, above and beyond any regularly applicable fees.
What About the Kids?
If you're bringing the kids along, they need passports as well. Child passport applications must be done in person at a passport acceptance facility, so applying by mail isn't an option. Supply documentation of your parental relationship, as well as citizenship documentation for your child or children. Both parents must consent to the passport application, so, if possible, go to the acceptance facility at the same time. If you and the other parent are no longer together, show documentation proving that you have full legal custody or that the other parent consents to the passport being issued.
The State Department outlines what documentation you'll need on its FAQ page for children under 16. The passport fee for a child under 16 is $85 for the booklet and an additional $15 for a passport card, if you want one. The fee for expedited service is $60 per application, the same as for adults. The passports are mailed separately as each is processed, but you can cut a single check or money order for the combined total.
A number of third-party companies act as middlemen, offering to secure your passport with less time, fuss and bother, in exchange for a fee. These companies are not affiliated with the State Department, no matter how impressive or authoritative their websites might seem, and can't get you a passport any faster than you could do it yourself. There's little reason to pay a third party to guide you through the application process when acceptance center staff already do that, and dealing through a third party increases the number of hands and eyes handling your core identification papers. It doesn't take much imagination to see the potential problems that could arise.