Renewing a passport is sort of like re-upping for the military: It’s a lot easier than the initial experience. The fact that you already covered the territory means that you’re allowed to use shortcuts. In fact, most people qualify for a very easy passport renewal procedure that doesn’t even require a visit to a passport acceptance facility. It’s only a little bit harder than signing on the dotted line, and you probably won’t need another identification document.

The First Cut Is the Deepest

When you first try to get into the land of passports, you have to prove yourself every step of the way. You fill out the lengthy form DS-11, giving all your personal information, and then prove your identity and citizenship with documents like a government-issued identification and a certified birth certificate. In addition, you must make an appointment at a passport acceptance facility and go in with the application, your documentary evidence plus photocopies of each page, front and back.

You also need a passport photo that conforms exactly to the U.S. State Department’s rules. It’s often easier to have it taken at the facility if possible. You need to sign your application after taking an oath that you’re telling the truth and paying your fees. Your new passport arrives by mail in four to six weeks.

The Renewal-by-Mail Process

In contrast, the renewal process is quite easy. Fill out the shorter form, DS-82, and mail it, along with a photo, your expired passport and your passport fees, to the address on the application. Unless you have changed your name since your passport was issued, you don’t need to include any evidence. If you have changed your name, enclose a certified copy of the court order. Your passport arrives in the mail in four to six weeks.

Some people can’t use this process and must, instead, use the DS-11 process all over again. The categories of people include:

  • Those who are under 16 years old or who got the former passport when they were under 16 years old;
  • Those whose former passport was lost, stolen or severely damaged;
  • Those who got their prior passport more than 15 years before; and
  • Those who are using a different name but lack the court papers showing a legal name change.

Proving Identity

If you fall into one of these categories and cannot renew your passport by mail, you’ll have to prove your identity and citizenship again. Fortunately, your expired passport is likely to prove both. According to State Department instructions, you can prove your identity with an expired passport, as well as any of a variety of other documents, including:

  • Fully valid, undamaged U.S. passport (may be expired)
  • Fully valid U.S. driver’s license
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
  • Government employee ID (city, county, state or federal)
  • U.S. military ID or military dependent ID
  • Valid foreign passport
  • Matricula Consular (Mexican Consular Identification, commonly used by the parent of a U.S. citizen child applicant)

If, for some reason, you cannot come up with any of these, you can use any two of the secondary identifications listed on the State Department’s website, which are:

  • In-state, fully valid non-driver ID
  • Out-of-state driver’s license
  • Out-of-state non-driver ID
  • Social Security card
  • Learner’s or temporary driver’s permit
  • Voter registration card
  • Employee ID
  • Student ID
  • Selective Service (draft) card
  • Medicare or other health card
  • Expired driver’s license 
  • Form DS-71, for an Identifying Witness