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Get Your Passport Now: Backlog Has Travelers Waiting for Months

Record demand threatens to disrupt summer travel plans

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It can take up to 13 weeks to renew a passport. Before making travel arrangements, check to make sure yours hasn’t expired.​​
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Planning an overseas trip? Don’t even start shopping for a flight before checking your passport.

If it’s expired, you can expect a wait of up to 13 weeks for a new one, says the U.S. State Department, the federal agency that issues the documents. If you’ve never had one, the wait may be even longer.

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Expedited processing, which costs an extra $60, can take nine weeks. That timeline begins the day the government receives your application, not the day you mail it, extending the wait time even more.

The delay is caused by “unprecedented demand,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a congressional panel in March. The government is receiving more than 500,000 applications a week, and is on track to exceed last year’s record of issuing 22 million passports, Blinken said.

When to renew your passport

The best advice is to plan far ahead and renew early. “Any passport that’s even close to a year of expiring, I would just say go ahead and do it,” said Summer Hull, director of content for The Points Guy, a consumer travel website.

Take a quiz: How Much Do You Know About Traveling Abroad?

Passports are generally valid for 10 years, and travelers are often surprised they need to renew, Hull said. During the pandemic, people weren’t paying attention since they weren’t traveling. “It wasn’t top of mind.” She suggests paying for expedited processing, and springing for express mail delivery. Otherwise, “it’s really a four-month process.”

Even if your passport’s still valid, you may need a new one. Some countries won’t allow entry if a passport expires within six months.

How to Apply for or Renew a Passport

If your passport is valid, or was issued less than 15 years ago, you can apply for a replacement by downloading a form from the State Department’s website, travel.state.gov, and mailing it along with a new photo and payment. But if you’ve never had a passport, or if it was issued more than 15 years ago, or if it was lost, stolen or damaged, you must apply in person at an official passport acceptance facility, which include many post offices and some local government buildings. These locations, listed on the website, may require appointments. Photos may be taken at acceptance facilities or photo vendors, such as national pharmacy chains. Visit the passport facility acceptance search page for information on what sites take photos.

The standard cost in all cases is $130, plus a $35 application fee if applying in person. For information, visit travel.state.gov.

If you’re traveling internationally within 14 days, call the National Passport Center, 1-877-487-2778.​​

Even people without international travel plans should check their passport, the State Department says.

Those with loved ones overseas or children or grandchildren in study-abroad programs may have to travel unexpectedly. “We often see people who need to make last-minute travel plans in situations such as these,” says Andres Rodriguez, lead community relations officer for passport services at the State Department. “Be prepared just in case.”

Travel demand after pandemic contributes to woes

Passport problems are a hassle, often expensive and can cancel a trip. Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover costs due to passport issues. And although it’s possible to get documents issued at the last minute, it may require spending hours on the phone trying to schedule an appointment and traveling hundreds of miles to visit a federal passport office in person.

Savings: Here are Four Ways to Save on Airfare

Travel experts cite several reasons for the backlog. With pandemic fears abating, there’s a pent-up demand for trips. In addition, a favorable U.S. exchange rate has encouraged international travel.

On the supply side, the federal government has had trouble meeting the demand, Blinken told Congress. “With COVID, the bottom basically dropped out of the system,” he said. Passport processing workers were reassigned, and contractors let go. Now the government is playing catch-up. “We’re really digging in on this. We’re authorizing overtime. We’ve opened satellite offices.”

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Provide appropriate photo to minimize delays

Meanwhile, the department urges travelers to check their applications carefully. Any problems will add to the delay.

“Our number one issue with passport applications are passport photos,” said Rodriguez. Guidelines, which are listed on the department’s website, include having a plain white background, clear resolution and a neutral facial expression. Selfies are not accepted.

He said the State Department hopes soon to restart a pilot project for online passport renewals. But in the meantime, the passport crunch has added even more complications to what’s expected to be a busy travel season.

Andrea Joines, who arranges trips for Tekton Ministries in Carmel, Indiana, said she’s already seen the delay disrupt plans.

One client applied for a passport in December, but it didn’t arrive until March 20, the day of her flight to Rome. She had to reschedule, arrange for her own transportation in Italy, and arrived late for the trip. “It was a stressful situation,” Joines said.

Flight delays? What to Do if Your Flight Is Canceled or Delayed

Congressional representatives may be able to help

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) told Secretary of State Blinken she and her colleagues know about the problems firsthand. “I’ve been really alarmed by the extended wait times,” she said. “Every single day in my office … we are receiving frantic calls.”

Indeed, several experts suggest contacting your congressional representative if you’re facing a passport delay. Most have a page on their websites to help constituents.

The Points Guy’s Hull admits did this herself. “In the dark days of COVID, mine was just taking forever. And coincidental or not, after I did that, within a couple of days it was on its way to me.”

But she says the best cure is prevention. Travelers should do everything they can to avoid a passport emergency. “It’s very stressful,” Hull says, “and it’s unfortunate that after so many years of on-again, off-again travel, travelers have this hurdle.”

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