Nothing lasts forever, and that includes your passport. Its 10-year viability seems like a lifetime when it first arrives in the mail, but time ticks away, and its expiration date is looming. The bad news is that you cannot renew a passport at a passport acceptance office, including the post office. The good news is that you have a much easier option.

You usually don't need to renew a passport at a passport acceptance office like the post office. Instead, use the expedited renewal-by-mail procedure that allows you to post the DS-82 application, photo, old passport and fee to the State Department. The new passport arrives by mail a month or so later.

The Life and Times of a Passport

That little blue U.S. passport can open the door to hundreds of foreign adventures over the course of its life: 10 years for adult applicants and five years for minors. Yes, the procedure for getting one can be annoyingly and time-consuming, and the cost seems high. But since traveling the world is not possible without a passport, most Americans shrug off the inconvenience and expense.

As the expiration date approaches, you may be tempted to call to make an appointment at your nearest passport acceptance center. However, you may not need to renew in person. Many passport holders can renew by mail without visiting a passport acceptance facility. The first thing to figure out is whether you are one of those people.

Renewing the Easy Way

Are you eligible to renew by mail? Most likely. You can renew by mail; indeed, you must renew by mail if these statements are all true about your particular circumstance:

  • You have your original passport.
  • It is not significantly damaged.
  • It was issued to you when you were at least 16 years old.
  • It was issued within the 15 years prior to this renewal.
  • It identifies you by your current name, or you have a court order documenting a legal name change.

If you qualify, use form DS-82 rather than the more complex form DS-11. Enclose your old passport, a new photo and the passport fee, plus the court order proving a name change, if relevant. Send all this in an envelope addressed to the State Department address on the application. You can expect to get a new passport back by mail in around a month.

Renewing the Hard Way

If any of those statements is not true, you'll have to renew the hard way. In fact, the procedure tracks the steps you had to take when you first got a passport. You need to use form DS-11, provide all the evidence required (including evidence proving your identity and citizenship), get a new photo and pay the fee. If your name has changed, you'll need evidence proving this.

And don't think of mailing it. You must make an appointment with a passport acceptance facility or find one that takes walk-ins. The agent will review your documentation and photo, administer the oath, watch you sign the application and accept your fee.