Fastest way to get a passport? Passport cards? Here are your top travel questions answered

Passport cards vs. books, passport

HOUSTON – Summer travel season has ended and the holiday rush is still more than a month away. This fall lull means it is the perfect time to apply for or renew your passport. We are looking into the least expensive and quickest way to get this chore checked off your to-do list.

Is there still a long wait for a passport?

In the summer of 2021, we told you about travelers who were waiting nearly five months to get passports so they could travel out of the country. The wait time now is the shortest it has been in the last two years. And we checked online-- you can get an appointment to apply in person as soon as tomorrow or the very next day.

If you’re flying, driving, or cruising out of the country, you need a valid United States passport, and don’t try to cut it close. Some territories, like the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, won’t let you in if your passport expires in less than six months.

(George Bush Intercontinental Airport)

“They’re gonna look at your passport and say, ‘You can’t get on the plane.’ And you’re gonna be panicked and rushed and have to make different arrangements,” said Ashley Kaspar, Houston Passport Agency.

What is the quickest way to get a passport?

If you have tickets to travel out of the country within 14 days, and you are just now realizing your passport is expiring or has expired, the only way to get one fast is by calling the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778 to make an appointment at a Passport Agency.

In Houston, the Passport Agency is downtown inside the Mickey Leland building at 1919 Smith St. This expedited service will cost you $165 for your passport and a $60 fee to expedite the processing. That’s $225 total.

What’s the best way to expedite a passport?

You can pay more to a courier or a private company to walk your application in.

“However it’s best if you’re in our area to plan ahead. Make an appointment in our agency because you’re gonna get the same service as using a courier,” said Kaspar.

That’s the most expensive way to get a passport at the 11th hour. The least expensive way is renewing or applying well before your expected travel.

Passport questions and answers. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

The wait time to receive your passport now once you apply is about seven to 10 weeks. While it is much easier to get an appointment now than it was a year ago or during the pandemic, the processing time to get your passport back is still about two weeks longer than it was pre-pandemic.

You have to make an appointment and apply in person if it’s your first passport or if your child is 16 or younger and needs one. Adult passports are $165. Passports for minors are $135.

If you are renewing your passport, and it didn’t expire more than five years ago, you can just mail your application along with your passport and pay $130.

Your new passport may look a little different

“We call this passport book the Next Generation Passport,” said Kaspar.

The state department has added security features and a data card made out of the same kind of plastic as a credit card.

Passport Books vs. Passport Cards

Passport questions and answers. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)
Passport questions and answers. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

You may not even need a passport book. If you are only traveling to Canada or Mexico, crossing a land border, you can just get a passport card. The application process is the same, but a card will only cost you $65 for an adult and $50 for minors.

Question: If I need a passport for my child who is a minor, do I have to bring them with me to apply?

Answer: Yes. Both parents or legal guardians must be with passport applications 16 years old and younger. If one parent can not attend, they can fill out a “Statement of Consent” form and have it notarized. You would bring this form with you to the acceptance office.

Question: When you apply for a passport, do you need a SS card?

Answer: You will need to write your social security number on the application, but you do not need to present your actual social security card. First-time applicants will need a completed DS-11 application form, something that verifies that you are a US citizen

(Example: certified birth certificate, previous passport or valid passport, naturalization certificate, report of birth abroad), a valid ID and a passport photo were taken within the last six months.

Question: I was remarried and my name has now changed. Do I need to apply in person to get this changed on my passport?

Answer: No. You can submit your name change decree or marriage license with your passport application by mail. Make sure you put your new name on the application.

Question: Do I need a passport for a cruise?

Answer: You do not need a passport for a closed-loop cruise. This is a cruise that departs and arrives in the same port.

Question: What is the process for getting a passport for a newborn?

Answer: The application process is the same for all minors. The newborn must be present at the acceptance office.

You can download passport forms from the U.S. Department of State and also check more FAQ’s for the nearest passport office near you.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.