Imagine for a moment that it’s morning and you’re about to wake up: Your alarm rings and you grab your smartphone from the bedside table. You’re still disoriented, but you decide to check your emails and something you see on the screen jolts you wide awake.
It’s a cheap flight alert to Japan from a subscription service you’d signed up for ages ago.
The deal looks too good to pass up, but there’s one problem: You don’t have a passport. So you wonder, “Can I book an international flight without a passport?”
Whether someone has never held a passport or they’re still waiting on a passport renewal, not everyone has a passport on them at all times.
So, can you book an international flight without a passport? Let’s take a closer look.
Do you need a passport to book an international flight?
Thankfully for daydreaming travelers, the answer is no.
In most cases, U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to book an international flight. However, you do need one to check in for your flight and get on a plane, and the document has to be valid. For instance, European countries that are in the Schengen area require at least six months of passport validity. Otherwise, you won’t be able to board a plane to countries in the region.
Other countries have different rules. For example, Mexico only requires your passport to be valid at the time of travel, so make sure to check the U.S. Department of State website for your destination’s requirements before traveling abroad.
Domestic trips within the United States don’t require a passport as long as you have a state ID or are enrolled in Clear.
How much does a U.S. passport cost?
The cost of a U.S. passport depends on whether you’re applying for the first time or renewing an expired passport.
First-time adult applicants will pay the following to get a new U.S. passport:
Passport book and card: $160.
Execution (acceptance) fee: $35.
The execution/acceptance fee must be paid for first-time applications, so all in: First-time passport book applicants can expect to pay around $165 total.
Applicants requesting to renew their passport will pay less because the acceptance fee doesn’t apply, so they’ll just pay the passport book or passport card cost listed above.
If you need a fast turnaround, expedited service costs an additional $60, and two-day delivery is listed for another $19.53.
How to apply for a U.S. passport
If you’re applying for a passport as a first-time applicant, follow the steps for an in-person application at a passport acceptance facility.
Fill out a form (new passport, renewal, data corrections, name changes).
Provide evidence of U.S. citizenship (with a photocopy).
Present ID (with a photocopy).
Calculate fees and provide a check or a money order payable to the U.S. Department of State (debit or credit cards aren’t accepted).
Submit all the documents to a passport acceptance facility.
Track your application status online.
Note that the acceptance fee will be charged separately. To locate a passport acceptance facility in your area, enter your ZIP code on this page.
In most cases, it’ll be a public library, a post office or a local government office.
Some states have passport agencies that can process your passport application within 14 days of international travel or within 28 days if you need to apply for a visa, but they’re open by appointment only.
How to renew a U.S. passport
Renewing a U.S. passport requires sending an application by mail. In fact, it’s not possible to renew a U.S. passport at a passport acceptance facility unless you don’t qualify for a mail-in renewal.
To be eligible for a renewal by mail, the following must be true:
You can submit your old passport with your application.
The passport isn’t damaged.
It’s never been reported lost or stolen.
It was issued in the last 15 years.
It was issued when you were 16 or older.
It was issued in your current name (unless you have a marriage certificate or a divorce decree to support a name change).
It wasn’t limited to fewer than 10 years because of multiple issues with passport theft, loss or damage.
Note that once you renew your passport, you’ll get a new passport number, so if you saved your passport number in a frequent flyer account, you’ll have to update the number and the expiration date before you can check in for an international flight.
The U.S. Department of State also has tested online renewals, but the service has been put on hold for now.
How long will you wait for a U.S. passport?
In 2023, the U.S. Department of State is on track to set the record for the number of passports processed. The department estimates 10 to 13 weeks for routine passport service and seven to nine weeks for expedited service.
It’s worth noting that mailing times aren’t included in the estimate, so you’ll have to account for that as well.
In short, you will need plenty of lead time to receive it before the travel date.
The bottom line
You don’t need a passport number to book an international flight. However, make sure to leave enough time for a passport renewal or a new application because it can take a while to process.
If you think you’re going to travel internationally, we recommend applying as soon as possible to have a passport ready. You don’t want to miss out on a great flight deal to Japan — or anywhere else — simply because you don’t have the required documents for international travel.
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