Check your kids’ passports before jetting off for the holidays

Oct 24, 2019

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With the holidays approaching, we know a lot of families with travel plans that either include a visit to family or a full-blown getaway. If you’re traveling outside the United States for the upcoming holidays, you may feel like you already have everything under control. Flights booked? Check. Hotel reserved? Check. Holiday dinner reservations? Got ’em!

But have you checked your kids’ passports? Now is the time to make sure they are valid and good to go for the country that you’ll be visiting.

The fact is, even the most seasoned traveler learns a thing or two once they begin to manage their kids’ passports. The rules aren’t quite the same as what you’re used to with your own passport, so there are a few things to be aware of before heading to the airport with your family.

Here are four things you should know about your child’s U.S. passport.

Child passports are only valid for 5 years (and not even really that long)

Adult U.S. passports are typically valid for 10 years, so it may not even cross your mind that your kid’s passport has expired. In our case, I only knew to check the dates because I had almost made the same mistake with my oldest son three years earlier. The rules change when kids turn 16, and again when they turn 18.

If you got a passport as an infant, you’ll need a new one by the time you are 5. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Also, remember that many countries won’t allow you to visit with fewer than six months left on a passport, which makes the true life of a child passport even shorter than five years. This is a snag TPG contributor Juan Ruiz found himself in recently: “With four weeks until our trip to Morocco, I realized I hadn’t checked if entry into Morocco requires a passport with six months or more of validity after my travel dates since my twins’ passports expire in January 2020. Lo and behold, they do.” Let the scrambling commence.

TPG contributor Juan Ruiz with his traveling twins. (Photo courtesy of Juan Ruiz)
TPG contributor Juan Ruiz with his traveling twins. (Photo courtesy of Juan Ruiz)

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can make an appointment to visit a passport center (if your travel date is less than three weeks away) or arrange for expedited service at an acceptance facility near you (if you’re traveling in less than eight weeks).

Kids can’t renew passports

My daughter’s passport expired in January last year, but we weren’t traveling until June. That little chore kept getting pushed further and further down the to-do list because the trip was six months away. No problem, I can just renew it, right?

Wrong. You see, you can’t just renew a kid’s passport. You have to get an entirely new one.

Image by Getty Images
(Photo by Getty Images)

Make an appointment

To get a new passport, both parents and the kid have to show up at a local passport acceptance location, which for most people is the post office or perhaps the courthouse. If your work schedules are anything like ours, you’ll be happy to know there is a work-around for the two parent rule.

Most post offices are only open during regular office hours, except Saturday mornings — and you probably need an appointment. You would think that being in the suburbs would be an advantage, as post offices are all over the place. However, in my case, the next available appointments for passports at any post offices within 50 miles were in July. Did I mention we were traveling in June?

You have options if you’re late

Once I realized the dilemma, I turned to my solution for most problems: social media. The Twitter team at the State Department got back to me right away. They were able to share the dates of my regional passport’s office next open house. Unfortunately, that date didn’t work for my trip, but it’s definitely worth reaching out to them.

In my case, we left town. It turns out that many rural community post offices often don’t have the demand for passports that suburban and metro areas do. Ten minutes of research located a post office in a trailer 100 miles away that had an appointment available the following Saturday. By spending $68 on a hotel, we not only got her passport processed (saving the $60 expediting fee) but also enjoyed a mini-getaway. Win-win … but barely.

Bottom line

Getting your child’s passport taken care of is not fun, and it will take more effort than you are probably used to when getting your own. I’m confessing my boneheaded maneuver in the hopes you will take my PSA to heart: Get your children’s passports renewed early (and often).

If you need additional child passport related tips:

Featured image by goodmoments/Getty Images

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