When it’s time to renew your U.S. passport, you’ll probably have to do so by mail. That means sending away your current passport and hoping that not only will you receive a fresh, renewed passport — but also that you’ll get your original passport back.
Some people may prefer renewal by mail; there’s no need to go to a government office and no need to stand in line. But for others, the idea of sending one of their most important documents through the mail — at the risk of losing it — is hardly preferable at all.
Although there are circumstances in which in-person renewal is required, it’s not an option in most situations. Mailing your passport to the National Passport Processing Center is usually the only way to renew it.
With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about renewing a passport, and how to reduce the risk of it getting lost in the mail.
When you have to renew your passport by mail
There was a time when you could renew your passport online, but for now, most passports can be renewed only by mail. The U.S. Department of State requires mail renewals if all of these conditions apply to you:
You can submit your old passport with your application (that is, it has been not lost or stolen).
Your passport has never been reported lost or stolen.
Your passport is not damaged, other than normal wear and tear.
Your passport was issued within the last 15 years.
Your passport was issued when you were age 16 or older.
Your passport was issued in your current name. Or, you can provide another document such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree that is evidence of your name change.
Your passport was not limited to less than the normal 10-year period of validity. That happens in situations such as having lost or damaged multiple passports.
If all of the above is true, you’re ineligible to apply in person for renewal, and passport acceptance facilities will not take your renewal application.
If any of those statements are not true, then you’ll have to apply in person. (More on that later.)
Tips for applying for a passport renewal by mail
If you’re concerned about your original passport getting lost, here are some tips:
Include enough postage: Large envelopes require more postage than usual. The postage for large envelopes starts at $1.35, compared with 66 cents for a regular letter or card, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Avoid having your passport returned because you didn’t include enough postage.
Subscribe to email alerts about your application status: The State Department generates updates about your passport application status. While that won’t prevent your passport from getting lost, it can at least provide peace of mind as to where it is.
Use USPS to send your renewal application: The State Department says you should use the Postal Service to ship your renewal application rather than other delivery services such as UPS, FedEx or DHL. When you do, ask USPS to use a trackable delivery method so you know where your package is in the system.
Submit your application correctly: If your application is incomplete, you may receive a letter requesting that you resubmit your application form, which adds an extra layer of complication. Ensure your application has everything it needs, such as a new photo in the correct format, sufficient fees, a signature with date, all the pages, and yes, your most recent physical passport.
Tips for applying for a passport renewal in person
If one or more of the conditions in the State Department’s list above do not apply to you, then you’ll probably have to renew in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility, such as one of the thousands of Postal Service locations around the country.
You’ll need to bring various documents, including a photo, a fresh application form and your most recent passport.
If you need to rush your application
At the time of publication, passport processing times for renewals were seven to 10 weeks, according to the State Department. If you need your passport sooner than that, you might be able to get out of sending it through the mail.
If your international trip is eight to 11 weeks out, then you’ll have the worst of both worlds: You’ll have to drop your passport in the mail, and you’ll have to pay a $60 expedited fee in addition to the normal application fee.