I’ve gotten many questions regarding passports and what you should do if yours is damaged. The reason you’re asking is because you might have heard the horror stories of people getting denied boarding at the airport because of it.

According to the U.S. State Department, there are a couple of situations at play that would constitute having to apply for a new passport prior to your trip:

  • If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the book cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport.  Conditions that may constitute damage requiring you to replace your passport include water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.
  • Normal wear of a U.S. passport is expected and likely does not constitute “damage.”  For instance normal wear includes the bend of a passport after being carried in your back pocket or fanning of the visa pages after extensive opening and closing.
    • If you need to replace your damaged passport, you will need to submit the following in person (See Where to Apply):
      • The damaged passport;
        • A signed statement explaining the damaged or mutilated condition of your passport book and/or card;
          Form DS-11; and
        • All documents required by Form DS-11, including citizenship documentation (i.e., birth certificate).

So what does this all mean?

Think of it from the perspective of the TSA and CBP. What would you want to see on somebody’s passport? You’d obviously want it to be in good condition with all of the information and photo readable and legible. This means liquid damage, tears, etc will most likely be disqualifying. If that’s you then it might be wise to start the process of getting a new passport ASAP as the process can sometimes take many weeks.

Much of your luck will fall upon the immigration agent and whether they can a) scan your document, b) make out the information on it.

Again, if you have the time, I wouldn’t chance it.


What if I’m leaving within the next week?

The State has set up Passport Agencies throughout the United States that are sort of like an on demand service for passports, specializing in quick turnaround for immediate international travel, life/death situations, etc.

Be prepared for an out of pocket cost of around $195 ($135 for passport + $60 for expedited service).

To view a list of these Agencies, click here.


Bottom Line

S*** happens. If you need a new passport quickly and aren’t sure what to do, give the National Passport Information Center a call 24/7 at 1-877-487-2778.

You have a few options, but your chances for success certainly decrease if you wait so act now.