Why you should renew your child’s 5-year passport after 4 years

May 8, 2022

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For families who love to travel, there’s something especially exciting about a child’s first passport. It’s the travel document equivalent of the new car smell — that crisp cover and unmarked pages feel like the first steps to exploring the world as a family. 

However, before you start planning your next great family adventure with your kids, take a good look at their passports. You most likely know that kids under 16 are issued five-year passports as opposed to the 10-year ones that U.S. citizens 16 and older receive. 

What you might not realize is that you most likely need to renew those five-year passports at the four-year mark. (A lesson, I’m embarrassed to admit as a full-time travel journalist, that I learned the hard way during spring break this year when I realized my son’s passport was expiring in a month and our long-haul travel plans would no longer work.)

Related: A lesson in passport expiration dates — Reader Mistake Story

Why, you may ask, with the myriad other considerations for family travel to juggle would you need to start this process so early? Let me break it down for you month by month.

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Passport validity rule — 6 months, minimum

Here’s something that may come as a surprise if you haven’t experienced it before: Many countries require that you have a passport that will be valid for six months after entry. That means if your child’s passport is set to expire six months or less from when you arrive at your destination, you can be denied entry or even prohibited from boarding your flight, although the airlines rarely alert you to this when you’re booking.

This six-month rule is not the case for every country, but it’s applicable to the 26 European nations in the Schengen Treaty, as well as most of South America, Africa and Asia. 

So, if you’re traveling abroad, you’ve already lost six months from that five-year passport since you’ll need it to be valid for six months past your travel date. Also, you, a parent who knows to expect the unexpected, have probably already realized that you don’t want to have exactly six months from your precise travel date, so let’s say seven months to be safe. 

Related: Everything you need to know about getting your child’s passport

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

In person appointments — 2 to 4 weeks

Here’s another bump in the renewal road: Children’s passports need to be applied for in person — no exception — and each passport is treated as new, so you can’t simply renew. Additionally, both parents must be present (although if one parent can’t appear in person, they can print out the Statement of Consent and have it notarized for the attending parent to bring along with copies of their photo ID).

Can you manage that in a week or two weeks? Nope, me neither. Even if you can find a passport facility that allows walk-in appointments, and your kids don’t have after-school activities, and you and your spouse are free, you’ll still need some flexibility and wiggle room to make a plan since you’ll also need to get passport photos of your child before you apply at that in-person appointment. Depending on how quickly you can move, this step can take anywhere from a week to a month. (Note that some passport application sites will take a photo for an additional fee.)

Processing time — 8 to 11 weeks

U.S. passports
Passports (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Let’s move on. You now know you need to have your child’s passport renewed before the six-month validity window and that you’ll need to apply in person. So you head to the U.S. passports page of the Department of State website and discover that regular processing time is currently … eight to 11 weeks, plus mailing time on either end (the processing time starts when the agency receives your passport). Yes, two to three months. If you choose, you can pay an additional $60 on top of the $110 for standard processing to receive expedited service. In that case, you can cut that timing to five to eight weeks. However, you’re still looking at possibly two months for processing in many cases, even with expedited service. 

Related: How to survive a flight with children of any age

Bottom line

There you have it: Start with having a seven-month validity on the passport, almost three months for a renewal, then another month to gather photos, information and make that in-person appointment. You’ll need to start the renewal process almost a full year before you thought you needed a new passport for your kiddo. The good news is you now know this in advance, so you can get started well ahead of your next trip.

Related: Guide to the six-month passport validity rule

Featured photo by LightFieldStudios. 

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