Have you just realized your passport expired and you have a trip coming up? Or did you just end up with some unexpected free time and you're looking to plan a vacation in the immediate future but don't have a passport yet? Either way, we sometimes underestimate just how long it takes to get a passport. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can speed up the process.

Expedite the Process

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Even if you're renewing, there might be a few cases where you basically have to start over again. If your previous passport was issued when you were under 16, if it was issued more than 15 years ago, or if it was lost or stolen, you essentially have to apply for a new passport. Renewal by mail typically takes four to six weeks, but expediting the process can make it easier.

Expediting the mail-in renewal speeds up the process to two to three weeks, but it costs an extra $60. This is on top of the $80 to $140 the renewal process costs, depending on your age and whether you want the passport book and card or just the book. You'll need a copy of your driver's license or other state-issued identification as well as a passport photo.

To expedite your renewal, choose the expedited option on your Form DS-82. When you drop this in the mail, writing "EXPEDITE" on the outside will ensure it gets handled faster.

Speed up the Process Even More

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If you're looking to get your renewed passport as quickly as possible, you can pay an extra $15.89 for overnight return service. This simply means that your passport will be sent via overnight mail rather than standard mail. This will save you a few days, but if you're looking at a trip coming up quick, it may be worth the extra cost.

Use a Passport Agency

If you're traveling in less than two to three weeks, there is another option: you can use a passport agency. You'll need a passport photo and a copy of your state-issued identification. At some locations, you can have a passport photo taken on site, but it's better to have one ready ahead of time to be safe.

The fees are the same as applying for an expedited passport renewal. This means you'll pay the cost of the passport renewal as mentioned above, as well as the $60 fee for  expediting it.

Keep in mind that these locations are relatively few and far between, and some states don’t even have one. You can find a list of them on the U.S. Department of State's travel website. Still, if you do have a passport agency nearby, it's the fastest way to get a passport — with one exception.

The final option is probably one you'll hope you don't need to use.

In the Case of an Emergency

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In the case of a death in the family or another dire situation and you need to travel out of the country immediately, you can get an emergency passport. This is meant for circumstances when you need to travel out of the country within 72 hours.

You'll need to make an appointment with the U.S. Department of State to get a passport in these types of situations. The daytime number is 877-487-2778, while if you're calling after normal business hours, you can use 202-647-4000.

This can get you a passport in as little as 24 hours, but you'll need to bring proof of the emergency. This can be a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary or a signed letter from letter from a hospital, doctor or other medical professional stating the nature of the emergency. In this case, you'll also need to pay the same fees as applying for an expedited passport renewal.