Passport Fees

Getting an American passport will set you back around $230. Is that reasonable?

I wrote a while back about passport snobbery, the view prevalent in some circles that Americans who never travel abroad are rubes.

As I discovered over the weekend getting ready to renew my own passport for the third time, it’s getting really expensive just to own one.   The State Department radically hiked the fees over the summer.   It costs $135 to get a passport, another $60 for expedited service for those who can’t wait 6 weeks, and another $14.96 for the “strongly suggested” overnight delivery. That’s $210!   And that doesn’t even count the cost of getting special photos made for the passbook.  Add in another $20 or so for that.

Oh, and if your current passport is still good but you’ve run out of pages?  No worries:  They’ll send you some more for a mere $82!

Now, granted, this is pretty small potatoes for anyone who travels regularly.   Passports are good for 10 years, so $230 or so is pretty cheap when amortized over the whole period if you take, say, one overseas trip a year.  For that matter, most of us who need passports can afford the hit.  After all, traveling overseas is pretty expensive.

And, presumably, it actually does cost something to process applications, print passports, and whatnot.   So it’s reasonable enough that those wanting the service should pay the freight.

Still, this is a government-mandated document required in order to exercise your rights as a citizen to come and go as you please.   A Virginia driver’s license, by contrast, costs $32 for an eight year period.   Given that we want to encourage travel — and the possession of passports as a vouchsafe form of identification — maybe we should roll back the price a bit?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    This is the future of government service. You pay your own way.

  2. PJ says:

    The cost for the passport is $135. It’s $195 or $210 if you’re unable to plan ahead.

  3. just me says:

    $135 is still expensive if you are trying to plan ahead for a larger size family. We have six family members and to get passports for our family it would cost $800-that is a huge amount of money for somebody on a tight budget. Especially if they are looking at spending the money just to have them.

    Given the fact that a driver’s license is a fraction of the cost I wonder why the passport has to be that expensive (what technology does it include that makes it three times as much as the average driver’s license)?

  4. john personna says:

    In other news, a two-day Disneyland pass is up from $79 to $99. Talk about something else that grows with family size. I was there, buying 2 adults and 4 kids, not so long ago … and I was like “I remember my dad complaining. Now I know exactly how he felt.”

  5. James Joyner says:


    Well, no, it’s $135 for the passport plus $14.96 for overnight delivery (which they “strongly suggest” since it’s the only way they’ll track the mailing) plus the $20 or so to get passport photos made. So that’s still $170.

    Agree that $60 for expedited service is typically not necessary — my passport expires in April, so I have plenty of time. But my previous passport required expediting because the one before that had expired, I had an unexpected business trip coming up, and needed it back in time to send off for an Egyptian visa. And my baby daughter’s passport had to be expedited because they now require a passport for even infants and, well, you can’t get them a passport until they’re born.

    But, as Just Me notes, there’s often a need to obtain multiple family member passports at once. The one for minors is a bit cheaper — a mere $120 plus photo plus shipping and any needed expedited service — but have to be renewed every five years, so more expensive per year.

  6. wr says:

    Isn’t this exactly how libertarians feel government should run? That there are no costs shared across all the citizens because we feel it’s a public good, but that everyone should pay exactly his costs and not a cent more or less?

    This is not one of my usual snarky jabs at libertarianism — I am honestly confused how you can reconclle a libertarian belief with the idea that the cost of a passport should be not completely borne by the holder.

  7. PJ says:

    @James Joyner, the $15 for overnight delivery isn’t for the passport. If passports sent without it would have been stolen, we would have heard about it, and if too many would have been stolen, the State Department would have made secure shipping mandatory.
    I also bet you could get a photo cheaper than $20.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @wr: I’m not a Randian. On the one hand, I’m dubious of government charging me for “papers” required to exercise my natural rights. But, yes, I’m willing to shoulder legitimate costs of government services, such as going to a national park.

    @PJ: I’m spitballing on the photo; it’s got to be pretty close to that, though. And, again, “strongly suggest” is the language State uses on the site in re: overnight shipping.

  9. mike says:

    why do I feel like there is a Palin joke in here somewhere – she was governor and never needed one. can you at least write off a passport on taxes?

  10. tom p says:

    JJ: no sympathy. You are a self admitted Libertarian (tho not a Randian) You reap what you sow.

    “On the one hand, I’m dubious of government charging me for “papers” required to exercise my natural rights.”

    What is natural about traveling to Egypt? You live in North America, the “natuiral” way to get to Egypt is swimming. Gonna? NOT. Sail? Doubt it… Fly? That is not natural James.

    And for the record, try getting the passports for you and BOTH your children…

  11. Trumwill says:

    You can actually take the passport picture yourself. You just have to familiarize yourself with the lighting/size requirements. If you can get the size right, you can cut your own print under a dollar. that’s hard, though. But if you can get the right picture, some of the kiosks at drug stores have options to help you with that.

    Easier to pay the $20, though.

    I got my passport renewed earlier this year. Regular shipping. Unless you’re in a time-crunch, I think you’re probably fine with standard shipping. That’s what I did. I also got the passport card for Canada and Mexico. It’s helpful to have more than one photo ID.

    Anyhow, I agree with Joyrner. I also think that state-issued photo IDs ought to be free.

  12. Protip: If you’re a AAA member, you can get them free. Of course that requires going to your local AAA office, which sometimes is less convenient than just paying $20. In Laredo a lot of places (including Walgreens) do passport photos, mostly cheaply, but we do have a lot of demand due to WHTI and visa requirements.

    The pricing doesn’t seem consistent with other identity documents, but then again passports are more complex than driver’s licenses – requiring printing, binding, etc. – and the economies of scale are probably low. Passport card prices are more in line with driver’s licenses, even though they’re more complex too (due to the embedded RFID chip), but a passport card won’t get you back in the U.S. on a plane (and probably won’t even get you out).

    On the upside, at least they’re less expensive than most U.S. visas. The Mexican tourist visa runs $140 for 10 years, and it’s basically the same thing as the $30 passport card.

  13. Passport service (and other consular services like visas) are required by Congress to pay their own way. The State Dept. and its Bureau of Consular Affairs (which includes passport services) have to perform regular cost-of-services studies to identify the actual cost to the U.S. government of providing U.S. passport services both domestically and at our embassies and consulates abroad.

    For a long time, adding more visa pages was done for free; while was very convenient for Americans residing abroad, especially in countries with multiple neighbors and lots of reasons for cross-border travel, but routinely ate up time and attention of consular staff. Time during which they weren’t accomplishing tasks for which the U.S. government could recapture costs.

  14. (continued)

    Now, if you think this service is too expensive (and I tend to agree), you’ll need to get your congressional representative to agree to pony up the difference in operating budget. Fees collected for consular services have to pay for what it costs to perform those services around the world, including for certain services for which no fees are charged (as in death certificates).

    One suggestion would be to for, say, a dollar be added to the cost of each visa applicatoin, said collected dollar to be used to underwrite and subsidize the cost of supporting consular services provided to U.S. citizens.

  15. Dave says:

    Why do we want to encourage traveling abroad?

  16. Rock says:

    A new Green Card cost my wife $390 bucks, and trip to Houston for fingerprints and a photo. We’ve been waiting since September for the new card to show up. Without a current Green Card she cannot renew her driver license here in Texas despite the fact she has been a legal resident alien and has had a license for many years. The $390 bucks is a good price for not having to drive my wife around wherever she wants to go … if it would just show up.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @PJ: Also, it occurs to me that the “expedite” fee is essential for truly frequent travelers. My current passport expires in April and I don’t anticipate another trip overseas before then, having just returned from vacation abroad. So, I can mail in my passport along with the forms and wait out the 4-6 weeks. But some people simply can’t be without a passport that long.

  18. DC Loser says:

    I my experience from a couple years back, my passport was mailed back within a couple of weeks of sending in the application. Could be that it wasn’t as busy during the winter. I imagine the spring and summer would be a longer wait. With the new requirement to show passport to enter Canada and Mexico, it will be even worse than before.

  19. The Q says:

    this is a boon doggle plain and simple…lets see, there’s approximately 115 million passport holders in the U.S.

    Lets assume they each get their passports renewed every 10 years, so lets say 11 million have to renew them every year (assuming for sake of argument that they are all adult).

    11 million x $150 (rough average of all renewals) = $1.65 billion!!!!!!

    Thats an absurd amount of of money for processing scraps of paper. By contrast the total market sales for adult paperback books last year was $2.2 billion and thats millions of books..

    Not just cost recovery but a scam to bilk taxpayers for services charging far more than they actually cost to produce.

    Come on Repubs, u should love this…imagine running gubmint as a business…isn’t that the wet dream of all conservatives?