Disclaimer: This site may earn affiliate commissions from your purchases through our links, at no extra cost. Learn more.

Expedited vs. Emergency Passport Services: What’s the Difference?

2 passports in front of a sand hourglass

Today, life moves fast, and opportunities can come knocking at the most unexpected times. 

Consider this scenario: you’ve just been offered your dream job, but it starts in a month—and it’s abroad! You’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this and here it is! However, the thrill of the opportunity is quickly replaced by the realization that your passport is expired. Suddenly, the ticking clock is a major obstacle between you and the start of your dream.

When you need a passport quickly, regular processing times often aren’t fast enough. This is where expedited and emergency passport services come into play. 

But what’s the difference between an expedited passport and an emergency passport?

In this article, we’ll clear up the confusion between expedited and emergency passport services. We’ll explain the differences and help you decide which option is best for you when time is tight. From there, we will guide you through both processes to make sure that you are passport-ready the next time you need to travel abroad.

Comparing Expedited and Emergency Passport Services

Passport ServiceExpeditedUrgentEmergency
Timeframe2 to 3 weeks*Up to 10 business days*72 hours*
Application Process
  • Follow the regular passport application steps and select “Expedite” service.
  • Can expedite by mail (renewals) or in person at a local passport acceptance facility (by appointment).
  • Follow the regular passport application steps and provide additional proof of urgent travel need.
  • Must appear in person at a Regional Passport Agency (by appointment)
  • Can authorize a registered passport expediting service to make and attend appointment for you.
  • Follow the regular passport application steps and provide additional proof of a life-or-death emergency for you or an immediate family member.
  • Must appear in person at a Regional Passport Agency (by appointment).
  • Can authorize a registered passport expediting service to make and attend appointment for you.
Additional Cost$60**$60**$60**
Suitable Scenarios
  • Vacation
  • Business Trip
  • School Trip
  • Study Abroad
  • Last-Minute Travel
  • Important Life Event
  • Vacation
  • Business Trip
  • School Trip
  • Study Abroad
  • Last-Minute Travel
  • Important Life Event
  • Life-or-Death Emergency for You or an Immediate Family Member
  • Death of an immediate family member.

*Processing times are not guaranteed and do not include mailing times (when applicable). You can often get your U.S. Passport in 24 to 48 hours with a Passport Expediting Service.

**Always check for the most current passport service fees.

Expedited and Urgent services are ideal for travelers who have a bit of flexibility, while emergency services cater to those who must travel immediately due to unexpected events. 

Understanding the differences between expedited and emergency passport services is key to ensuring you get your passport on time, without stress or delay. 

Choosing the right service can determine whether you make your flight, attend an important business meeting, or support a family member in urgent need.

Expedited Passport Services Explained

Expedited Passport Services speed up the usual processing time. These services are ideal for non-emergency situations when you need your passport sooner than the standard timeframe allows.

These services are perfect if you have upcoming international travel planned within a few weeks. Common situations include:

  • an international vacation,
  • a new job overseas,
  • a school trip abroad, 
  • to study abroad, or 
  • an important event overseas. 

With expedited services, you can typically expect to receive your passport within 2-3 weeks, sometimes even faster. However, these come at an additional cost on top of the regular passport application fee.

To apply for expedited services, follow the regular passport application steps but include a few extra measures:

For more information on expedited passports, visit our comprehensive guides:

How Urgent Passport Service is Different

When you can’t afford to wait more than 14 days for your passport, urgent passport service is likely the choice for you.

The quickest way to obtain a passport is by applying through a Regional Passport agency. You have the option to submit the application personally or to have someone else do it on your behalf, such as a friend, family member, or a registered courier service.

If you decide to go to a regional agency yourself, you must make an appointment ahead of time by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778. 

Securing an appointment can be difficult, as walk-ins are generally not accepted. Presently, the wait times for an appointment can be extensive, with some individuals needing to call multiple times and wait hours to connect with someone. Often, the first available appointment might not even be at your nearest agency, but rather at one that is further away.

In a situation like this, you have two options:

  1. Drive or fly to the regional passport agency with the first available appointment.
  2. Hire a registered courier service to visit the regional passport agency for you.

In most cases, option 2 is the easiest and least expensive. A passport expediting service can help you through the entire application process including checking your application for errors, getting materials to and from the passport office, and generally speeding up your experience.

That said, be aware that not all services are created equal, you will want to be sure you find one that you can trust to get your travel documents as quickly as you need it! If you choose to hire a registered courier to obtain your passport for you, be sure to follow our guidelines for How to Choose a Passport Expeditor and The Ultimate U.S. Traveler’s Guide to Passport Expediters.

In a rush, check out our current top recommended passport expediting service based on over 20 years of helping readers like you.

What Makes Emergency Passport Services Unique?

Emergency Passport Services are only for U.S. citizens who need to travel internationally at short notice due to life-or-death circumstances. These services can deliver a passport within 72 hours, which is faster than expedited options.

According to the U.S. Department of State, an ‘emergency’ in this context means unexpected, immediate travel needs. Common reasons include:

  • needing to attend to a family emergency abroad, 
  • seizing a last-minute business opportunity, or 
  • traveling for urgent medical care.

To get an emergency passport, you must apply in person at a Regional Passport Agency.

First, call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 to get an appointment.

Note: You may not be able to get an appointment as quickly as you need at the regional agency nearest you. In these cases, you should be prepared for additional travel to reach an agency with available emergency appointments.

At your appointment, you must show evidence of the emergency—like a death certificate or a medical professional’s letter—along with all the other standard passport application materials.

Emergency passports are usually issued within 72 hours, although it may be quicker in some situations. Timing will vary based on your specific proof, circumstances, and the efficiency of the regional agency you visit.

Remember: You can only use regional passport agencies for life-or-death or urgent travel. For non-urgent travel, consider regular or expedited application options mentioned earlier. Always check the latest guidelines from the U.S. Department of State, as requirements and procedures may change.

For more information on emergency passports, see our following guides:

Getting a Limited Validity Passport

In certain situations, a limited-validity passport may be issued for emergency travel. A limited-validity passport is a passport issued with a shorter validity period than the usual 10 years for those aged 16 and older, or 5 years for minors under 16. This type of passport is typically only issued under emergency circumstances outside of the U.S.
If you are issued a limited-validity passport while abroad due to emergency travel, follow our guide: Limited Validity Passport Issuance & Replacement for complete instructions on how to obtain a limited-validity passport while overseas and how to have a limited-validity passport replaced once you’re back int the US. 

Tips for a Smooth Passport Application Process

Navigating the passport application process can be daunting, but with the right preparation and knowledge, it can be a breeze. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth passport application process:

  • Ensure Your Documentation is Correct: The most common reason for delays in the passport application process is incorrect or incomplete documentation. Make sure you have all the necessary documents, including:
    • proof of U.S. citizenship, 
    • a valid ID, and 
    • a passport photo that meets the requirements. 

Double-check all your information for accuracy before submitting your application.

It’s a good practice to regularly check your application status to stay informed about its progress.

Remember, the key to a smooth passport application process is preparation and timely action. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well prepared for any last-minute trips abroad.

Make the Right Choice to Get Your Passport on Time

Selecting the right passport service—be it expedited for planned trips or emergency for sudden, urgent travels—can transform a potential logistical nightmare into a hassle-free trip overseas. The difference lies in understanding and choosing the service that matches your specific needs, ensuring that you’re well-prepared rather than caught off-guard.

If you need a passport fast, our expert advice is to get professional help from a registered passport expediting service. Check out our top recommendation and get started on your application now!

Share this post:

About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

Get the Latest Updates

Fill out the form, tick all boxes, click subscribe for updates on passports and travel news.

Related Posts