What You Need to Know About Upcoming Passport Changes

With renewal requests expected to increase in 2017 and 2018, now is the time to act.

U.S. News & World Report

What You Need to Know About Upcoming Passport Changes

U.S. passport for traveling

Though some upcoming changes are clear-cut, others beg more questions.(Getty Images)

If you haven't renewed your U.S. passport since 2006 or 2007, now's the time to ensure you're up-to-date. In January, U.S. State Department officials announced they're expecting a spike in passport applications and renewals in 2016, with 10-year passports set to expire soon.

Why the sudden uptick? In 2007, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was put into effect, mandating that American citizens entering the U.S. by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean carry a passport, triggering a backlog in renewals for millions of applicants – a scenario that could easily occur again. Flash forward to today, and many travelers are also concerned about whether they'll need to show an alternate form of acceptable identification for domestic flights to comply with the REAL ID Act, which will be put into effect on Jan. 22, 2018, and will impose more stringent ID requirements. And besides the chance to dodge a delayed – or cumbersome – process later on, there's also the matter of entry requirements imposed by international countries. With a number of places requiring a minimum of six months left on your passport, there's never been a better time to be passport-ready for smooth, stress-free travel.

Though some upcoming changes are clear-cut, others beg more questions: Do I need another form of identification to travel? How long will it take to get an updated passport? And how will the new 2016 U.S. passport design and security enhancements prevent fraud, forgery and mishandling? To help you navigate the change, here's a primer on passport updates ahead – and guidance from experts for a hassle-free renewal process.

Why You Should Renew Now

"We saw an uptick right after the official [REAL ID] announcement," says Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs. "It's very real," she says, pointing out that there were 14.5 million passport renewal requests last year and 20 million requests are expected in 2017 and 2018, not to mention 17 million requests anticipated for 2016. "There's a lot of work going in," she adds, pointing out that it's a smart idea to get a jumpstart and beat the crush of like-minded travelers, especially given the strength of the U.S. dollar in many international destinations and the looming REAL ID Act.

Beyond taking into account the time and money associated with getting your passport renewed (processing can take up to six weeks and cost $110 for adult renewals), you also need to factor in the entry requirements of other countries, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. Some strict country passport policies may surprise you. For example, in the 26 countries included in Europe's Schengen Area – which includes Spain and France – the State Department advises that travelers' passports are valid for a minimum of six months.

How to Renew Your Passport

Before you renew your passport, Sprague advises checking out the State Department's website, which offers a wealth of information and serves as "a one-stop shop." It will take travelers a maximum of six weeks to get a passport, she says, adding, "We have been doing very well this year in exceeding that timeline." You can easily pinpoint more than 8,000 passport accepting agents across the country on the State Department's website, she says, including local libraries and post offices. Alternatively, you can renew your passport by mail. Online, you'll find a DS-82 Form to apply for a passport renewal. Beyond a completed form, you'll need proof of identity, certified proof of citizenship, a 2-by-2-inch passport photo and $110 payment for citizens 16 and older (in the form of a credit card of check).

"Remember the requirements for children are more stringent," Sprague says, noting that the renewal process can be time-intensive for minors under 16, with additional steps and materials required, including the child's social security number number and a DS-3053 Form that serves as a statement of consent from the minor's parents. Additionally, for those under 16, passport applications and renewals must be submitted in person. Keep in mind that passports for younger travelers are only valid for five years, so it's important to budget enough time to get renewed before your next international trip.

Where Your Passport Is Getting a Facelift

Getting renewed isn't the only precautionary measure to ensure entry into a foreign country. In an effort to increase national security and reduce fraud, a variety of new passport features will be introduced in the passport redesign, slated to be unveiled in July 2016. The biggest change: a machine-readable chip. And Sprague assures there will be even more advanced technological features and forensic devices coming in the future. Another major change: fewer passport pages, Spagnola says. The current 2016 passports allow for 28 stamp-approved pages, rather than the standard 52 pages available in the past.

Apart from innovations reshaping passports themselves, the passport-screening process is getting an upgrade, too. "It's becoming a fast-paced world of technology and mobile apps," Spagnola says. Australia's government is currently experimenting with an electronic system that allows passports to be saved in the cloud. Plus, upon arriving to Australia, travelers can use a SmartGate system that allows you to hold your passport as you go through a kiosk, saving you extra time and hassle thanks to a high-tech facial recognition platform. "It's really something to see," Sprague says, adding that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is moving in a similar direction to more efficiently process low-risk fliers. Already, at select domestic airports, including San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle and Miami, passengers can download a savvy app, the Mobile Passport app, which enables you to punch in a few trip details to get a handy e-receipt to present at customs, allowing for an expedited screening.

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