4 Affordable (and Legal) Ways to Get a Passport When Money is Tight

passport fees
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Passports used to be something only jetsetters needed when traveling overseas. Thanks to a new law set to go into effect in 2018, many U.S. citizens may need a passport even if they don’t plan to leave American soil.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is about to make it even harder to get through security checkpoints around the country.

This time next year, your driver’s license won’t be enough to get you through checkpoints in  Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington.

If you live in one of the other 41 states, pay attention — it may not be long before the REAL ID law affects you too.

What’s the REAL ID Law?

In an effort to crack down on fake IDs, Congress enacted a law requiring domestic travelers to produce a supplementary form of identification besides a driver’s license or state-issued ID card.

It might seem like this new regulation came out of nowhere, but Congress actually passed the REAL ID act in 2005. Oh, wheels of government. Why you gotta turn so slow?

Anyway, what this means for you is if you don’t have an official second form of identification (say, a military ID), you’ll need to get one sometime in the next few months. Your best bet is probably to apply for a passport.

How Much Does a Passport Cost?

Passport fees for first-time adult applicants aren’t cheap.

The application fee is a whopping $110. The execution fee (which is a really aggressive way to say “processing fee”) will run you another $25.

Renewals aren’t a whole lot cheaper. You save $25 on the execution fee, but the application fee remains the same.

The good news is passports last a really long time — 10 years to be exact. That breaks down to a little over $13 a year, not too bad for something that gives you access to most of the planet.

Are You Exempt From Passport Fees?

There are very few situations that might exempt you from passport fees.

If you fall into one of those categories chances are you’re already aware of it, but just in case, let’s recap.

The State Department will waive passport fees if you are:

1. Traveling on official U.S. government business

2. A U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, or other officially designated Sailor in the Armed Forces

3. An immediate family member of a deceased military service member seeking travel to an overseas funeral

4. Anyone else the State Department decides should get a free passport

What If You Can’t Afford a Passport?

If a passport application or renewal is out of your budget’s reach, you’ve got a few options to explore.

1. Consider a passport card.

Unless you’re jet-setting to all corners of the world, you might be able to get by with a passport card instead of a traditional passport book.

Cards are just as official as books, but the $30 application fee makes it a much cheaper option.

One thing to note. Passport cards can only be used at these sea ports-of-call and land border crossings:

  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • Bermuda
  • The Caribbean

2. Ask your boss.

If you travel overseas for work, talk to your employer about paying for your passport and application fees.

If the boss says no, keep your receipts — you can at least write off the expense on your taxes.

3. Check into advocacy and civic groups.

Thanks to a grassroots movement on Twitter, transgender citizens can ask nonprofit organization Trans Law Help for assistance with paying passport fees.

The group has collected over $15,000 to help transgender citizens defray the cost of updating a passport following a legal name change.

Think about what formal or informal groups you’re a part of that you could tap into for help. Churches, cultural communities and veterans organizations in your area may be a resource for help paying your passport fees.

4. See if your college offers scholarships.

Some colleges also help with passport fees. Temple University’s scholarship program offers first-year and transfer students up to $130 to help offset the cost of applying for a passport.

Be sure to check into whether your college offers a similar program.

Other (Fun!) Reasons to Get Your Passport

Big Brother might insist you get a passport, but there’s nothing stopping you from also using it to inject some fun into your life.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of the adventures you can have when you have a passport at the ready.

Your turn: Do you have a passport?

Lisa McGreevy is a Staff Writer for The Penny Hoarder. She’s also a travel junkie who keeps her passport with her because she never knows when opportunity will strike.