How to Get/Renew a US Passport Fast

I recently went through the nightmare of needing to renew my United States passport before an international trip. If you’re here, you may be in a similar situation in that you need to get or renew a US passport as quickly as possible. I was able to get an in-person appointment at the passport office within a week, but the process was definitely stressful. To save you from some of the pain, allow me to share some tips and tricks on how to get or renew a US passport fast.

US passport

Know your options for getting a new passport

There are several ways to expedite your passport application/renewal. If your trip departure is between 7 to 11 weeks, you can do an expedited application/renewal of a passport by mail (takes 5-7 weeks). My focus today, however, will be the process for those who are traveling in under two weeks, what the State Department calls urgent travel service. You will need an in-person appointment at a US passport office for this method. When you’re done, you’ll get your passport on the same day or soon after, depending on the urgency.

There’s also life-or-death emergency service, which takes priority over all others. This process is a bit different than urgent travel service. Please see the State Department website regarding emergency travel for specific info regarding your situation.

Urgent travel service is for anyone needing a new passport for travel within two weeks or for those who need a foreign visa within 28 days. Yes, that’s specifically two weeks or 28 days, respectively. If you’re like me, realizing you need a new passport within three weeks of travel (but not a visa), you’ll have to wait a week to call. It seems weird that there’s nothing for people who need a new passport pretty urgently but not urgently urgently, but that’s the system.

Additionally, there are third-party services that partner with passport offices to get you your passport fast. I looked up the pricing for a particularly famous company when I began this whole process and was astounded to see the cost was over $800. These are fees imposed by the third-party service and not by the State Department. Aside from the unavoidable cost of getting/renewing a passport, the only extra cost from the State Department is the $60 fee for expedited service. Are third-party services worth it? Maybe, if you don’t live anywhere near a passport office and would need to travel to do everything yourself. Third-party services are expensive, but they’re an option that may work for some.

How to set up an appointment at a US passport office

First of all, walk-in appointments don’t exist, so don’t even try waiting for an opening. There’s also no way to schedule an appointment online anymore, thanks to all the scammers who took advantage of the appointment system during the pandemic.

There’s only one number to call for setting up an appointment, regardless of where you live in the United States:


(If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-888-874-7793 for TDD/TTY teletype services.)

Instructions tell you to call within 14 days of international travel or within 28 days if you need to apply for a foreign visa. I’ll focus on the former since that was my situation.

When you speak with a representative, they’ll ask you for the day of your flight. The day of travel must be within 14 days from the day you call for an appointment. So if your flight is on January 18, the earliest day you can call would be January 5. If you call earlier, they’ll tell you to call again. They are strict about this because the whole system is set up to get people their passports when they need them based on urgency.

Some inquisitive folks may ask if the representatives actually verify your flight info during the call. In my case, they didn’t. Still, I wouldn’t call early and lie about your flight date, as you may end up with a passport appointment too early, and they will check your travel info in person. Also, you’d be cheating and ruining the system for everyone else.

NOW HERE IS A TRICK YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD USE (caps and bold because it’s important)

The national call center for making an appointment opens from 8am to 10pm ET, Mon-Fri (closed on federal holidays). Please, please, please note that these hours are in ET. Eastern time. So if you’re calling from the West Coast, you’ll need to adjust your plan to accommodate for the different time zone.

Why is this important?

To avoid waiting in a phone queue, you’ll want to be the first person to get through when the call center opens. This could also get you a better chance at available appointments.

Does this mean call at 8am ET?

Absolutely not. It means calling at 7:58am ET and waiting at the last prompt in the automated system before inputting the command to get you to a representative. When the clock strikes 8am ET, punch in that last number and you’ll be connected to a rep as others are just starting to call.

As of this posting, this is how the automated menu works:

  • For information in English, press 1; for Spanish, press 2
  • For new passports and applications, press 1 (includes renewals)
  • If you are traveling internationally within two weeks, press 2

So that’s 1-1-2 for English speakers calling the standard call center number. I recommend that you call on a weekend or after office hours (when the call center is closed so you don’t waste anyone’s time) to run through the automated phone system in case anything has changed. You can also practice the input timing (seriously) and get a feel for how the menus repeat themselves since you’ll need to wait at the last prompt. You may also want to listen to some of the other options in case they’re relevant to you.

So, again, dial the number a few minutes before the call center opens, then wait until it becomes exactly 8am ET before hitting that final 2. This has gotten me a human representative both times I’ve tried with zero wait.

The phone rep will ask for your travel date, then they’ll give you some options for an in-person appointment. I live in San Francisco, so I was given an appointment for a week later at the San Francisco Passport Agency. I’m not sure how things fare in other parts of the country, particularly in cities that don’t have bigger passport offices.

When your appointment is scheduled, they’ll give you a confirmation number on the phone, then they’ll send you an email with all the preparation info you need. I waited on the line to verify that I had received the email before ending the call, just in case they got my email address wrong. I’d recommend keeping your email open and refreshing to verify as well without wasting any of the rep’s precious time.

Preparing for the passport office appointment

The confirmation email from the call center includes all the instructions you need for preparing for the in-person passport office appointment. Despite what I read online, the passport office does accept credit cards and you can show proof of travel electronically. I would still recommend printing out your itinerary to save time, as well as to protect you against any loss of cellular service or a drained phone battery (yes, I’m that paranoid).

For the appointment, you’ll need your application/renewal form filled out, a proper photo attached to the form, as well as your travel itinerary proving you are traveling within two weeks. You’ll also need a form of ID (like a driver’s license) and a way to pay the passport fees. If you’re doing a name change, you’ll need to bring the right docs for that as well (instructions are in the confirmation email).

Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco
The Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, inside which sits the SF Passport Agency

What to expect during your passport office appointment

My in-person appointment was at the San Francisco Passport Agency, so I can only speak on my experience there. I would imagine there are a lot of takeaways that might apply to an experience in any of the passport offices.

The instructions say to arrive 15 minutes early. I opted to be extra early, only to be told upon arrival at the office that I could only enter during my designated time. This confused me until I realized that there’s sometimes a wait just to enter the building due to security. Of course, it’s far better to wait than be late. I would recommend showing up early just as a contingency against any other delays that might occur.

Security in the building is pretty strict. It’s essentially airport security but maybe even more stringent. Jackets come off, and any metal on you has to be placed in the x-ray bins. During one of my visits, a line formed because a guy had shoes with metal in them. While that’s sometimes unavoidable and hardly his fault, it’s another example of how delays can randomly happen.

After passing through security, I took an elevator to the third floor. The passport office is right by the elevators, so there’s no trouble finding it. A security guard checked for confirmation numbers and appointment times, only allowing those with appointments at the current time to enter. Having to wait because I was early, I went to the second floor where there’s a seating area by a closed cafe, as well as large restrooms. I was pleasantly surprised that everything was clean and accommodating. Peaceful, even.

When my time had arrived, I returned to the passport office and entered. They told me to wait in a long line to be checked in. Only one person per group is allowed to stand in this line. And I was in this line for one hour, so if you have trouble standing for long periods, consider bringing someone who can stand for you.

After a full hour of standing in line, I approached an agent at the window with my confirmation number, completed form and proof of travel. She looked over my docs to make sure I had everything I needed. She then gave me a number and told me to wait to be called. Thankfully, there are seats for this part of the ordeal.

At this point, you can leave for the second-floor restroom if you need to (just be sure your number isn’t coming up soon). Also, note that phone calls aren’t allowed inside the office. They have to be made far from the entrance door too.

I should also mention here that everyone (absolutely everyone) in the building, from the security guards to the janitors to the window agents, is friendly and professional. Especially in the passport office, you get a real sense that they’re trying to help you out. This is definitely not a DMV experience but something far superior (no offense to the DMV).

I waited an additional hour and 15 minutes for them to call my number. Things moved quickly from that point on. I had everything prepared, so I spent only 15 minutes speaking with the agent. The total cost for me to renew my passport was $190: $130 for a new passport and a $60 fee for expedited processing (for those getting a passport for the first time, there’s an additional $35 execution fee).

The agent gave me a receipt of payment and a pick-up slip for my new passport. I wasn’t able to pick it up on the same day because my travel date was a week away. To give priority service to those leaving sooner, I would have to come back two days later. I live in the city, so this wasn’t a problem, but I can imagine how it could be inconvenient for those coming from farther away or for those who can’t take more time off from work.

Do NOT sign the pick-up slip at home; you’re supposed to sign it in front of an agent when you pick up your passport. Also, the slip gives you the option to authorize someone else to pick up your passport, which can be helpful.

Getting your new passport

For those who need to return to the passport office to pick up their new passport, it’s like your first visit except the line moves much faster. After a certain hour of the day, the only arrivals to the passport office are those picking up their passports. I waited in line for 30 minutes this time. The agent took my pick-up slip, verified my identity, had me sign the slip, then told me to make sure everything in my new passport looked correct. Take your time with this because you’re so close to the end and it would be a shame if you had to come back because your name was spelled wrong.


Seriously, celebrate. If you can get your new passport in your hands before your travel date, celebrate. No one needs this stress, and you’ve just conquered it. We need more reasons to celebrate in life anyway.

Closing tips to ensure a less stressful passport application experience

  • All the info in this post is accurate as of the date of posting, but you should still look over the State Department instructions on how to get a US passport fast, just in case
  • Call for an appointment the first day you’re allowed, at a time before the call center opens, then wait until the exact moment the office opens to hit the last input command
  • Print out all your documents to avoid any technical problems during your appointment
  • Get to your appointment early in case there’s a line at security
  • Bring a book to read, or bring a battery charger if you plan on using your phone a lot
  • Plan for a long wait (my total time spent during my first visit was almost three hours, not counting the time spent because I arrived early, and this was during a non-peak travel period)
  • Block out most of your day for your visit if you can (it’s a luxury to do so, I know, but it alleviates a lot of the stress of waiting if you’re not urgently itching to do something else)
  • Know that everyone working at the passport office is there to help you get what you need (and they work very hard), so be kind and respectful

I hope at least some of this info was helpful to you. Having to apply for or renew a passport in a hurry is incredibly stressful, and I still feel your pain. If you have any questions regarding the last-minute passport application process, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below. If this was helpful, consider following me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more travel-related posts. Good luck!