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World map covered in passport stamps
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9 Surprising Passport Facts You Need to Know

SmarterTravel

Did you know the U.S. government recommends you send your passport application in a special envelope? Or that losing a lot of weight may trigger the need for a renewal? Here are nine impressive, surprising, and vital facts about U.S. passports. You never know when one might apply to you.

1. Impressive: Passports Are on the Rise

Several United States passports piled on top of each other
Maksym Yemelyanov | Adobe Stock

In 1996, the U.S. Department of State issued 5.5 million passports. That number has since been trending upward, reaching just under 21 million in 2019 (with a dip to around 11 million in 2020, likely due to the emergency halt of passport issuance in response to COVID-19). Even when you factor in the population increase, that’s a heartening jump in the number of people eager to get out and explore the world.

2. Surprising: Protect Your Passport with Tyvek?

Think you can use any old packaging and shipping method when you’re sending in your old passport for renewal? Think again. The Department of State recommends that applicants use a trackable shipping method, such as Priority Mail Express, to keep tabs on their application and know when it arrives safely at its destination. It is also strongly recommended that applicants mail their documents in a sturdy envelope such as a Tyvek envelope, which will protect against the rough and tumble world of postal transit

3. Vital: You May Need to Renew Sooner Than You Think

Don’t take your passport’s expiration date at face value. Some countries have a six-month or three-month passport validity rule that requires your passport to be valid for a certain amount of time after your date of entry.

4. Impressive: Your Passport Has Identity Theft Deterrents

Hands holding a passport open to pages full of stamps
suparat1983 | Adobe Stock

If your passport was issued after August 2007, you’ve got an e-passport with a small integrated chip in the back cover that stores your passport information and a biometric identifier based on your photograph. To protect passport holders from unknowingly falling victim to high-tech identity theft, there are metallic elements in the cover of the passport, making it impossible for the passport to be digitally “read” until it’s physically open.

5. Surprising: If You’ve Gained or Lost Weight, You May Need a New Passport

If your appearance has changed significantly, you’ll need to apply for a new passport. That means if you’ve lost (or gained) a lot of weight, so much so that you look different than you do in your passport photo, you’ll need a new one. The same is true if you’ve undergone “significant facial surgery or trauma,” or if you’ve added or removed large facial tattoos or piercings.

6. Vital: You Must Obey Photo Restrictions

photology1971 | Adobe Stock

You may not realize it, but nowhere are the fashion stakes as high as in your passport photo. That’s because the photo may be rejected—thus throwing your application into a delayed spiral—if it doesn’t meet certain criteria. The photo must have been taken within six months of your application date, and needs to reflect your current appearance. You must directly face the camera and your expression should be neutral. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Photos with exaggerated expressions and squinting will not be accepted.” And uniforms and “clothing that looks like a uniform” are forbidden as well.

7. Surprising: Passports Can Have Different Lengths

A standard-issue passport is 28 pages long. However, when you’re applying or renewing, you can request a longer, 52-page passport at no additional cost. Unfortunately, if you fill up all 52 (impressive!) or need more pages in your existing passport, you’ll have to apply for a new passport even if your old one is not yet expired.

8. Surprising: Damage Can Render Your Passport Invalid

Normal wear and tear is forgivable, but if your passport has been significantly damaged, it’s time for a new one. Water damage, significant tearing (especially on the book cover or the page with your personal data and photo), unofficial marking on the data page (keep kids with crayons well clear), and torn out visa pages are among the types of damage that will likely mean you’ll need to apply for a replacement.

9. Vital: You May Need More Blank Pages

Open passport book, closed passport book, passport stamp, and two airplane boarding passes
Maksym Yemelyanov | Adobe Stock

If you’re planning a trip and are running low on blank pages in your passport, it behooves you to take a look at the country information for your destination, since a few countries require you to have up to three blank pages in your passport for visa and immigration stamps. Most countries want you to have at least one blank page for stamps, so if you’re traveling to multiple countries on the same trip, make sure you’re prepared.

Bonus: How to Take Your Own Passport Photo at Home

You can skip the long lines at your local CVS by taking your own passport photo at home. Follow these guidelines to learn how to get a picture perfect at-home passport photo.

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