I received my renewed U.S. passport on October 16, 2021 – a little over 14 weeks since I mailed it in for processing.
Here’s how my experience of renewing a passport by mail in 2021 was like.
My passport was set to expire on October 13, 2021, which I took note of the year before. I had planned on traveling back to Saipan and renewing my passport there, but as I was researching the process of renewing a passport, I read that if someone was traveling internationally, their passport must still be valid at least six (6) months before it expires.
Although the CNMI is technically a US territory, we are apparently still considered international.
And someone I know mentioned that they were stopped in Guam due to their passport expiration date being so close at the time they were at the airport. And I didn’t want to risk being stopped as well.
So, I checked my passport, and I was right on the 6-month mark, but I was not ready to travel yet. So, I had to begin preparations for renewing my passport, which was nerve-wracking, to say the least as this was my first time preparing my documents on my own.
While there is an option to renew your U.S. passport in person at an embassy, I renewed mine by mail.
There are requirements for an individual to be eligible to renew by mail:
- Having current passport in my possession to submit with the application;
- Passport is undamaged other than the normal wear and tear;
- Was issued when aged 16 or older;
- Was issued within the last 15 years; and
- Was issued in current name or can document name change.
The Application Form
After confirming my eligibility to renew by mail, I learned that the form I had to fill out was Form DS-82. The form’s requirements are essentially the exact same as the ones to be eligible to renew by mail.
When filling out the form, there was an option to apply for a Regular Passport Book (standard) or Large Passport Book (Non-Standard; 52 pages). I went for the Large Book, in hopes that I get to fill out those pages within the next 10 years, and plus, there is no additional cost for these extra pages.
Individuals may also renew their passport cards, but since I never had one, I only focused on the passport book.
The form itself was easy to follow and fill out. If your handwriting is as messy as mine, I suggest filling it out using the PDF fill mode.
Afterward, I printed the entire form – six single-sided pages – signed and dated on the appropriate spaces.
If your name is different from your current passport, you must provide a certified copy of the legal name change, which includes:
- Marriage certificate;
- Divorce decree; or
- Court-ordered name change document.
This document will be returned to you in a separate mailing from your renewed passport.
I didn’t have a name change, so I was able to skip this step.
The current requirements for a passport photo are:
- A high-resolution photo that is not blurry, grainy, or pixelated;
- Size is 2×2 inches (51 x 51 mm);
- Head must be between 1 – 1 3/8 inches (25-35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head;
- Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper;
- No digitally changing the photo (including removing red eyes); and
- No damaged photo with holes, creases, or smudges.
A photo tool is available online to help determine if your passport photo is acceptable.
I struggled a lot with the passport photo. I felt like I memorized the tips and guidelines for passport photos with the number of times I went through them to make sure I submit an acceptable photo.
My primary challenge was deciding where I should take my photo. I tried taking a photo at home, but the lighting was horrible. I tried going to Walgreens, but their processor was down. I was thinking of doing it at the post office, but I was shy.
So, I ended up scheduling an appointment at The Picture Place. Thankfully, my photo came out great, and, spoiler alert, was accepted!
Here are a couple of tips I followed when taking my passport photo:
- Submitted a photo that was taken in the last 6 months;
- Had someone else take it, and in my case, printed out, for me;
- Although I wear glasses, it was required that I take them off for the photo;
- Removed my face mask;
- Had my hair tuck behind my ears and flow down behind my shoulders and back;
- Sat in an upright position (no slouching);
- Wore a single, solid color and non-collared blouse that covered my chest and arm area;
- Though acceptable, I didn’t wear any form of jewelry; and
- Smiled a natural smile, with my teeth showing.
Because I had mine professionally taken, I didn’t have to worry about the size, position, resolution, print size, background, and quality of my photo. I was able to receive my photo and its copies within only 30 minutes.
I stapled one copy of the photo in the appropriate space on my application form.
New and renewed passport books cost $110. Expedited service is an additional $60. You can check out all the fees online, with a fee calculator and fee chart readily available.
When renewing your passport by mail, the U.S. Department of State accepts only checks and money orders for payments. Cash and online payments are currently not accepted and available.
I went to USPS to get a money order. If I remember correctly, there are no additional taxes or fees when getting a USPS money order. The only fees I paid for the renewal were the application and mailing fees (when all my documents were ready to be mailed out).
For USPS money orders, the only printed information on the money order was the amount paid and the date that the money order was published. Other than that, I had to handwrite:
- US Department of State; and
- My full name, and date of birth.
In their respective places.
Mailing Completed Application
For those living in the United States, it is required to mail your application and supporting documents through USPS.
I mailed my passport renewal application and supporting documents on July 13, 2021.
Included in my envelope are my:
- Completed, signed, and dated application form with stapled photo;
- Most recent passport; and
- Money order.
And I placed them inside a 10.5×15” bubble mailer shipping envelope. You can of course mail your documents using any envelope of your choice as long as they fit and are protected.
When choosing my shipment options, I opted for USPS Priority Mail Express for faster shipping and delivery.
The Waiting Game
During the time that my passport was being processed, processing times for mail routine service were 12 to 16 weeks. Currently, in November, the processing time for mail routine service is 8 to 11 weeks.
In case you need to change your address or request expedited service, you can contact the US Department of State by phone at 1-877-487-2778. When calling to track, the machine would refer you back to the online tracking system.
Through the online tracking system, I was able to see and take note that my passport status started the “In Process” stage on July 28, 2021.
Receiving My Renewed U.S. Passport
On October 13, 2021, my passport status changed to “Approved.”
With the “approved” status, the tracking system stated that it would take another 2-3 business days for them to mail out my passport, and another week for mail delivery.
Surprisingly, I happily received my renewed passport 3 days later on October 16, 2021.
My old passport book arrived about two weeks later, as the US Department of State does send them out separately from the new passport.