As travel restrictions fade and countries reopen their borders to Americans, international travel is back on the menu after more than a year mostly off-limits. There's just one problem: Getting your passport – or even getting it renewed – has become a challenge.
It once took just a month or two to get a U.S. passport, but pandemic-driven problems have stretched that into a process that can take more than four months. Even new or renewing applicants that pay an extra $60 for expedited service aren't getting their passports back until three months later. The Arizona Republic reported on the perfect storm of issues causing delays and headaches for international travelers.
Increased demand for passports as international travel resumes has exacerbated a backlog that began last spring, when many State Department offices closed for months. And then there are delays with the U.S. Postal Service itself shipping applications, old passports going in for renewal, or newly completed passports heading back to their owners: Mailing alone is taking at least six weeks.
“Some of our service providers have been experiencing operational issues which result in delays in applications getting to our passport agencies and centers. These service providers include the U.S. Postal Service and the intake facility that processes payments and enters applications into our systems,” a State Department official said.
That's why U.S. officials are now warning Americans to start the application or renewal process at least six months before their next international trip.
It's just another layer of complication in the growing pains as travel rebounds, along with constantly changing travel restrictions, long lines at check-in and baggage drop, and growing tallies of flight delays or cancellations.
What To Do If You Need a Passport
Whether you're planning to head abroad in the coming months or you've already got a passport application or renewal in the works, here are some tips to make sure you get yours back in time.
- Check your passport now. While yours may not expire for a while, many countries require at least six months validity for all arriving travelers. That means your passport may effectively expire sooner than you think.
- Start the process early! U.S. officials now say Americans should start the passport application or renewal process at least six months before their international travel.
- Consider expediting your application. Paying an extra $60 to expedite your application can shave up to six weeks off – though U.S. officials say an expedited passport may still take up to 12 weeks to receive.
- Ask your congressperson for help. Find your representativeYour congressman or congresswoman may be able to help by squeezing the State Department to process your application faster. and contact their office.
- Try for an in-person appointment. If it's your very first passport, check into appointment availability at U.S. State Department offices or county clerk offices. Check for offices around you on the U.S. State Department website. Renewals are better off sending in their passport via mail.
- Traveling within the next 72 hours? You may be able to slide into an appointment quickly through the State Department.
International travel may be coming back. But now more than ever, it pays to plan ahead – way ahead.
Consider your upcoming travel plans and check your passports now to see when they expire. You're much better off starting the application or renewal process sooner rather than later