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Why Can’t You Renew a Child’s Passport in the U.S.?

A smiling child holding her new passport in front of a U.S. Regional Passport Agency

If you’re a parent who needs to renew your child’s passport, you may be wondering why you can’t do it in the U.S. You’re not alone; in our over 20 years of helping travelers with their travel document concerns, this is still one of the most frequently asked questions we get from our readers.

The answer is simple: the U.S. government does not allow children under the age of 16 to renew their passports. Every time a child needs a new passport, they must start the application process over from the beginning with Form DS-11.

This can be very frustrating as the process for getting a child’s passport is much more involved than getting a passport for an adult. In addition to having to wrangle your youngster for an acceptable passport photo, there are also extra documentation requirements and in-person appointments to both make and attend.

What’s more, a minor’s passport is only valid for 5 years from the date it’s issued (unlike an adult passport which has 10 years of validity). So, when the child’s passport expires, the only option is to start the application process over again and get a new one.

While this is inconvenient, there are a few very important reasons for this policy.

3 Reasons Why You Can’t Renew a Minor’s Passport

1. A child’s appearance changes a lot in 5 years

Every passport requires a photo that allows customs officials to easily identify the passport holder. The problem for minors is that an infant looks a lot different than a kindergartener. A 14 year old may look very different from their 9 year-old self.

One of the most significant reasons for requiring children to get new passports rather than just renewing them by mail is so applicants can have up-to-date photos and the passport acceptance officer can validate that the child is, in fact, the one applying for the passport.

2. A child’s legal guardians can change

The U.S. government wants to ensure children are only leaving the country with their legal guardians or with express permission to travel with someone else. With America’s high rate of divorce, separation, and guardianship cases, it is important that every child is properly accounted for and with their proper custodian—especially when that child travels abroad.

While it is possible for children to use a minor travel authorization form to travel without one or both of their legal guardians (or in some cases, fly as an unaccompanied minor), the child’s passport can only be issued with proper evidence and documentation from all of the adults who have legal custody rights. This is a much more complicated process than the typical adult passport renewal by mail.

3. A child’s personal details need to be current

Along with family changes can come other changes to a child’s personal details, including their name or address, that must be accounted for. While these details can be updated for any passport by submitting the proper forms to the U.S. Department of State, there’s an extra layer of precaution when it comes to issuing passports to minors.

Conclusion – What to Do Next

Since you cannot renew your child’s passport, you will need to apply for a new passport in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility, a US Embassy, or a US Consulate.

You will need to provide:

For a full, step-by-step walkthrough of the child passport process, be sure to visit our guide to How to Get a Passport for a Minor Age 15 or Younger. There you will find all the details, including copies of all the required forms, to apply for a new passport for a child.

The process of getting a new passport can take several weeks or longer. So, if you and/or your child needs a passport, it is important to start the process early. If you have urgent travel needs involving your child, you can contact a registered passport expediting service for help or attempt to get an appointment at one of the 26 U.S. Regional Passport Agencies.

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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.

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