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How to renew American passport abroad

I distinctly remember the last time I renewed my American passport in 2014. I was 20 years old, and in a rush to renew my passport so I could get a visa to India for over the summer.  In the application, I consciously checked the box for the option to get a 27-page passport, instead of the 51-page one. At the time, even 27 passport pages seemed excessive to me – who the hell needs so many passport pages right?!?

Fast forward to July 2018, and I have one empty page left in my 27-page passport. This was thanks to full-page visas from India, Cambodia, and two from Nepal, inconsiderate immigration officers who stamped smack dab in the middle of my pages in Malaysia and Ireland, and my over-enthusiasm when I put a big Machu Picchu stamp in my passport from Peru. I had 31 stamps from 20 different countries, plus Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu stamp American passport renewal abroad

Luckily, U.S. Embassies around the world provide a passport renewal service for those of us abroad. The best part – they renew them for the same price as if you renewed it in the mail back in America!! The cost for a passport book renewal is $110 USD

Now the question was, which embassy to go to?

Because I was traveling long-term, I could choose which country I wanted to spend extra time in while waiting for my passport to be renewed. I was in London at the time (my fourth stamp from England), leafing through my completed passport. I was just about to cross the border between England and France for the third time in three weeks, because I was following World Cup public viewings. In London I had just watched England get knocked out in the semi-finals by Croatia. The finale was going to be a Croatia-France match, so I was heading back to Paris. But I did NOT want to stay in Paris waiting for my passport to be renewed. 

France World Cup champions 2018

Not only was my 90-day limit in the Schengen region closing in, but Western Europe is an expensive place to stick around for 2-3 weeks waiting for a passport renewal!

I did some research online, scouring websites of different U.S. embassies in the Balkan countries (which are outside of the Schengen area), since I was thinking of heading to Croatia.

It’s important to note: How quickly you can have your new passport in hand varies GREATLY on where you apply.

Check out each U.S. Embassy’s estimated “processing time” on their websites! 

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Switzerland

Renew American passport abroad US Embassy website

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in England

U.S. Embassy England passport renewal
US Embassy in England passport renewal

For example, I was thinking of applying in Switzerland, because I wanted to hike in the Alps for a week or so. According to their websites, if you apply for a passport renewal at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, it’s expected to take “14-21 business days.” At the Consular Agency in Zürich, the renewal is expected to take “3-4 weeks.” At the U.S. Embassy in London, “3 weeks.” Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I was also thinking of going to, said I should expect it to take 6 weeks!! (Since then, updated to 2 weeks)

The winner? Croatia, at “7-10 work days”! I could see myself giving my passport to the embassy in Zagreb, hanging out in Croatia for two weeks, then picking it up before heading to Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina. The U.S. Embassy in Slovenia could also complete it in “7-10 work days,” but Slovenia was expensive to be in, and I didn’t think there was enough to do there for two weeks.

Make an Appointment via the U.S. Embassy Website portal

US Embassy renewal passport appointment

I ended up applying for a passport renewal at the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb. I made an appointment on their website, filled in and printed my documents, and had my credit card in hand to pay the $110 fee with. 

Complete form DS-82 for Adult Passport Renewal

Form DS-82 for American Passport renewal abroad

Check the Available Payment Options of the U.S. Embassy

Payment options at Croatian U.S. Embassy
Payment options at the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia
Payment Options at the U.S. Embassy in Bern
Payment options at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland

Conveniently, the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb has a photo booth where I took my passport pictures right before my appointment.

Turns out, in order to ensure you’re never without a valid passport, once you’ve applied for the passport renewal, the Embassy gives you back your old passport. I had planned on making a loop through Croatia and its islands and then coming back to Zagreb, but since I had my old passport with one empty page, I looped back through Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Bussing around the Balkans Slovenia Croatia Bosnia & Herzegovina Serbia Kosovo Montenegro Macedonia Albania Bulgaria Ultimate guide to bus around Balkan countries

The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb had my passport ready for me in 5 business days. It was waiting for me there when I returned to Zagreb two weeks later to pick it up.

10/10 would renew my passport at the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb again if it ever comes to that!

These are the steps I would take for renewing your American passport abroad, relevant for long-term travelers:

  • Make a list of countries you’ll be passing through in the near future
  • Cross off the countries that you would get bored of after one week, and that have no neighboring countries you can loop through to get back to the U.S. Embassy
  • For the remaining countries on the list, go to their U.S. Embassy website and see the expected time it takes to renew a passport.
  • When you’ve narrowed down the list to the shortest, make sure you schedule an appointment with them before you start heading there – sometimes they’re fully booked!
  • Once your appointment is confirmed, fill in your DS-82 form, have your old passport, credit card (or $110 USD cash if the embassy accepts it), and passport photos in hand, and start making your way to that country!