• For a downloadable application form visit travel.state.gov/passport.
•For a first passport, you'll need to apply in person at a post office, public library or other government office.
•Bring a certified copy of your birth certificate, two identical 2-inch-by-2-inch color photographs, a valid photo identification, an application form and fee for the new passport. It is good for 10 years ($97 for travelers 16 and older and $82 for those under 16).
•Passport renewals cost $67. If your passport is undamaged and less than 15 years old, you were at least 16 years old when it was issued and you have the same name (or can legally document your name change), you can renew by mail.
•If you're traveling in less than 10 weeks, consider paying $60 for expedited service, plus overnight-delivery fees. These passports take about two weeks to process.
•Last-minute travelers leaving within two weeks who haven't yet applied for a passport should make an appointment to visit one of 14 regional passport offices (Boston, Chicago, Aurora, Colo., Norwalk, Conn.; Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle or Washington, D.C.) by e-mail (go to travel.state.gov/passport, click on "About Passport Services," then "National Passport Services Center") or by calling 877-487-2778. The call center is staffed from 6 a.m. to midnight ET, Monday-Friday, plus limited weekend hours. According to the State Department website, the best time to call is after 8:30 p.m. or before 9 a.m. ET.
•Travelers who already have applied and are within two weeks of departure can check the status of their application at travel.state.gov/passport: Click "Online Application Status Check." Note that the State Department is taking up to one week for expedited applications and up to four weeks for routine applications to be tracked online.
•Consider paying extra ($100 or more) to a private passport expediter, which is allotted rush-application slots at regional passport offices. But ask first about delivery times and guarantees. Many of the largest firms belong to the National Association of Passport and Visa Services, napvs.org.
— Jennifer Wise