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| If you’re planning an international trip, check your passport’s expiration date now. It could take more than four months to get a new one.
The U.S. State Department projects a wait of up to 18 weeks for renewals, and some customers are reporting even longer delays. Those paying an extra $60 for expedited service can still expect to wait up to 12 weeks for their document. Those processing times begin the day the department receives your application, not the day you mail it.
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And appointments for last-minute, in-person processing are extremely limited.
The problem is — what else? — COVID-19.
In March 2020, when pandemic restrictions were first imposed, the State Department sent most employees home, and severely scaled back processing applications. When workers began to return to the office, in June 2020, they faced a backlog of applications. Now, a year later, they still haven’t caught up with the demand, a State Department spokesman said. There are also mail delivery delays, according to the State Department website, which notes that the 18-month processing-time estimate includes up to six weeks for mailing.
As more people get vaccinated and begin to plan international trips, the backlog is likely to grow, resulting in even longer processing delays. “Put your forms in as fast as you can,” says Jeremy Scott Foster of TravelFreak.com, a travel advice website. “Unfortunately, there is no workaround. All queues are long."
The passport delay has caused some travelers to cancel trips. For example, Samantha Meabon, a physician assistant from western Pennsylvania, needed a new passport because of a name change. The process took four months, forcing her to cancel a planned trip to St. Lucia and Martinique in the Caribbean in May. “Although we planned much further ahead of time than we normally would, we ended up having to continue to postpone international travel,” she says.