In most cases, US citizens applying for a US passport are in a hurry. They may be traveling soon and may need to secure a passport before their travel date. Fortunately, the US Department of State makes it easy to plan ahead. The agency has a website (http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/processing/processing_1740.html) which lists current processing times for US passports, which helps passport applicants determine how long they need to wait in order to get a passport.
According to the website, for example, as of January 23, 2012, the processing times for regular service is about 4 to 6 weeks, while expedited service takes about 2 to 3 weeks. If you are traveling and need your US passport fast, you can apply for expedited service (at an additional cost) and pay for overnight delivery to send your application. You can also apply for a US passport book. US passport cards can take slightly longer to process, since they are sent with First Class Mail rather through overnight mail.
The best option with a US passport is to apply well in advance of your travel date. This helps prevent the stress and extra expense of trying to obtain a US passport at the last minute. If possible, wait until you get your passport before making travel plans. This way, you will not need to worry about getting your passport in time and you will be able to adjust to any delays.
If there is an emergency and you need your passport quickly, however, there are some things you can do. If you need to travel within 14 days, for example, you can go online to submit your application at a Passport Agency rather than through the mail. To do this, you will need to schedule an appointment with a Passport Agency. If you have already applied but are traveling in seven days and your passport has not arrived, contact Customer service or the National Passport Information Center for assistance.
There are other things you can do to ensure that there are no delays with your application. For example, if you are applying for a US passport by mail and paying extra for expedited service, indicate on the envelope that the form is expedited. Make sure that you send your application in a sturdy envelope so that your application is not damaged and use a method of mail that lets you track your package. This ensures that simple mail delays do not delay your application. Before mailing your application, make sure that you have included everything required and that you have filled out all required information on the forms with no mistakes. Errors on your application can delay your US passport.