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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Online Passport Renewal Process and Delivery in Michigan

December 2016

We got our first passports 10 years ago via our local post office. The only thing I remember from that experience is that the cost was $90 each. I almost let our expiring passports slip by, as this is the only type of identification or travel document I have that does NOT give holders a warning about the upcoming expiration date. I receive notices before my Driver's License and GOES membership (Global Online Enrollment System for US Customs and Border Protection) are going to expire. My initial GOES membership expiration notice arrives 6 months ahead of time. I realized our passports were about to expire right after we had booked a last minute International trip.

I am sharing current costs and our passport renewal experience below. Our renewal experience was more difficult than our first-time application experience. The process for renewals is expected to be completed entirely on your own; however, the process was not without hiccups. I suggest adding a reminder to your calendar at least two months before your current passport is set to expire.

Passport processing times from the government website

Routine service: Approximately 4-6 weeks from the time of application, including mailing time.
Expedited service: Approximately 2-3 weeks from the time of application, including mailing time.
Expedited at Agency: 8 Business Days or Less than 2-3 weeks, depending which page you read the information on. You need to be traveling within 2 weeks, or have need for a foreign visa within 4 weeks, to use this service.

Passport fees in December 2016

Routine service for passport book: $110
Routine service for passport card: $30
Expedited service: additional $60
Priority Mail Express Delivery of passport book: $20.66
Expedited at Agency: the fees page says this is an additional $25; however, if you use the online calculator, the fee given is $60. We did not use this service, so I cannot provide details about the actual cost or time frame.  

More fee information, including name changes and passports for children, can be found on the passport website. The link to the fee calculator is at the top of that page.

Preparing forms and passport photos for mailing

  • Completing renewal form DS-11 online was the easiest part of this process. When you print pages 2 and 3 to send in, they need to be printed on 2 pages; do not print them two-sided.
  • If you plan to take your own photos, carefully read the details on the Picture Perfect Passport page. I was told the photos need to be printed on photo paper, even though this is not stated on the website (I called to ask about this). Additional suggestions: take a photo with a pure white background even though the information says off-white is acceptable, and take the photo with a flash even though this is not stated either. The end photos that were accepted for our passports were extremely white; our faces and the background. They do not look that way in our passport books; however, the photos by themselves were very white and bright looking.   

Legal-size postal envelope used - no charge for
envelope and available at the PO or

Mailing passport renewal documents

  • Since we needed to include our current passport books with the renewal documents, this meant additional postage was needed. I decided the best way to mail everything was Flat-Rate Priority Mail. The postage cost for a Flat-Rate legal size postal envelope (label printed from home) was $6.45.
  • We mailed everything [for both of us in one envelope] Priority Mail the day before the expiration date on our passports, and 7½ weeks prior to the upcoming trip we had scheduled. Since routine service takes 4 - 6 weeks, I thought this was plenty of time.
  • Even though the USPS website states that items sent Priority Mail will be delivered in 1 to 3 business days, I found out that is not guaranteed (I called to talk with someone after I saw our envelope had been mistakenly returned to Michigan). I have a USPS account, and I received tracking updates for our envelope. After our envelope arrived in Philadelphia, someone at the Post Office sent it back to Michigan! I do not know if Philly is the destination for all passport renewals, or if they are divided up to different locations, like the Federal Income Tax locations. Our envelope arrived back in Philadelphia the next day, and was delivered that same day. This was 3 days after we had mailed it; however, it was also on a Saturday, so our envelope was actually not received until the following Monday.

Passport renewal processing

  • I checked our passport status online every few days after the envelope was delivered and there was no activity.
  • Nine days after we had mailed in our renewal documents, we received everything back in the mail. This was a Friday afternoon (our mail arrives quite late), and we were not able to resend everything until the following Monday. We received a generic letter with the returned documents, so it was unclear exactly why everything was returned. The letter said, "No passport photo submitted, or passport photo unacceptable." We think the photos were not accepted because the background was not white enough; however, I do not know this for sure. I talked with several people at the Post Office and the Passport Processing Center, and was told that our experience was unusual. Everyone said that our notice should have told us exactly why our applications had not been accepted. And, everyone said they do not usually send everything back; usually, only the photos are returned, if that is the only thing that needs to be corrected.
  • It was now a little over 6 weeks before our International travel date. Still within the 4-6 weeks time frame; however, we were also approaching the holiday season.  

Resubmitting passport renewal

  • When I spoke with someone at the Post Office after receiving our documents back, I also made an appointment to get our pictures taken. 
  • On Monday, a couple of hours before our appointment, someone from the Post Office called me to say they could not take our photos. She suggested we get them taken at Rite-Aid, so we did.
  • We then went to the Post Office to have the representative check all our documents and photos. She said everything looked okay, although both employees were not impressed with the quality of the photos from Rite-Aid. This got me worried because one of the employees I had spoken with at the Processing Center had told me they had the right to reject any photo or application, even if it had been submitted with a representative through the Post Office!
  • We again mailed everything Priority Mail, and this time the envelope was delivered in 2 days. We paid for expedited service when we resubmitted our applications.

Expedited passport service

  • Four days after our renewal applications had been delivered, our checks had cleared through our bank, and I then found our applications in the system. This was over a holiday weekend, so I was surprised to see things in process.
  • When I had checked our passport status before the weekend, our passports were not found in the system. I then entered my email address on the website to receive updates on the status; however, I never received any email notifications about the status or anything else.
  • We received our passports less than 4 weeks after we started the initial process, and 2 weeks after we started the expedited service process. We received our expired passports back in a separate mailing 4 days later. 
  • I was surprised our new passports have a new passport number. I expected them to be like our driver's license; the same number with a new expiration date.

Overall passport renewal experience

Although we had a rocky start renewing our passports, the end result met our needs. I thought the expedited fee was expensive, and I did not want to pay it. I spoke with three different representatives at the Processing Center and two at the Post Office when we were trying to find out what was wrong with our photos, and trying to decide whether to pay for expedited service. None of the employees assured me that the processing times listed online were accurate. In fact, they all brought up the holiday season, and one person at the Processing Center suggested we pay the $20.66 fee for express delivery, too. Since there were 4 upcoming business days when the Post Office and Government offices were going to be closed for the holidays, we decided not to take any chances. In the end, it seemed like we would have been fine without purchasing expedited service.

I am not usually one who waits until the last minute to take care of things. I am organized almost to a fault, and I am not a procrastinator by any means. Now that I know not to expect a passport renewal notification, I already have this marked on my calendar - yes, in 2026! 

Let me know if you have any questions. If you found this information helpful, please share this blog post for others.