When preparing for international travel, you'll want to give yourself plenty of time to get your U.S. passport and other necessary paperwork in order. Standard passport processing time is four to six weeks for passport renewal. If, however, you don't get your passport for some reason at the end of six weeks, or are late in getting your application submitted, all is not lost.

Passport Application Basics

When traveling to most foreign countries, you will have to have a passport through the U.S. Department of State. Whether you're a first-time applicant applying for a new passport or have an expired passport and are renewing your old one, passport acceptance and the renewal application takes about the same amount of time. This is a routine service through the state department website (travel.state.gov) that requires standard supporting documents to be given to the clerk’s office in order to receive a certified copy of your passport card. Adults applying for a new passport must submit form DS-11, proof of citizenship, valid identification like a birth certificate or driver’s license, a photocopy of their valid identification, a passport photo and any applicable fees. When renewing a passport, the steps are quite similar, except that you fill out Form DS-82 and do not have to apply in person, but instead can fill out a money order and send it through your post office to the acceptance facility.

Preventing a Delay

Some ways to help ensure that your passport arrives on time include making sure you completely fill out your passport application form and that you include all of the required documents when you mail your application to the passport services. Once you submit your application, you can track your passport status online; if you notice a delay during the four- to six-week waiting period, you should call or email the National Passport Information Center to see if something went wrong with your application status or mailing times, especially if something unusual like a name change has happened.

Expedited Processing

If you find yourself in need of a passport book within two to three weeks rather than the regular four to six, you can apply for expedited processing. Maybe you have a lost passport or your timeframe for a trip changed. Once you get your expedited passport information handed in, you can track the status of your passport online for the expedited service. It's important to keep in mind as you calculate your processing time that passports cannot be sent to you via overnight delivery. Passports are sent via first-class mail. When mailing your passport seeking expedited processing, make sure you write "expedite" on the outside of your mailing envelope. Expedited processing costs more in passport fees, but for urgent travel needs, the expedite fee and delivery service can be worth it to get that completed passport in your hands on time.

Emergency Processing

In a life-or-death emergency situation where you absolutely must get your passport but are out of time to send in an application, you can contact the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778. Travel emergencies should be related by phone only; emails take about 24 hours to get a response. Life or death emergencies are defined by the Department of State as events involving serious injury, illness or death in your immediate family that necessitate your traveling within 24 to 48 hours to a country requiring a passport. U.S. citizens must visit a passport agency or passport office in person with documentation of your emergency to receive an emergency expedition.