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After Long Summer Delays, Passport Wait Times Are Back to Normal

Getting a passport has been a major headache for Americans in 2023, with far longer passport wait times leaving travelers stressed or scrambling before an international trip. But things are finally back to normal.

After stretching out to three-plus months amid record demand for passports, the timeline to get a passport – or renew an expiring one – has returned to pre-pandemic levels. As of Monday, Dec. 18, the U.S. State Department now estimates it will take 6 to 8 weeks for routine processing or just two to three weeks for expedited service, which costs an additional $60, according to the latest update. Those timelines don't include shipping, which can add several more weeks.

current passport processing times as of Dec. 18, 2023 

But the process can be even faster. When Thrifty Traveler co-founder Nick submitted his passport earlier this month, he had it back in hand less than three weeks from the day he dropped it in the mail … and that was without paying for expedited service.

Compare that to the peak this summer, when federal officials advised a standard application could take up to 13 weeks – or up to nine weeks even for expedited service. When passport delays were at their worst, the State Department actually recommended applying at least six months before a trip or passport's expiration date.

Now, passport wait times are back where they were prior to the pandemic.

US State Department passport wait times 

As international travel demand soared this year, so did the demand for passports. The State Department issued over 24 million passports this past year, a new record, according to a news release.

But even those who heeded the federal government's advice to apply for a new passport – or renew an expiring one – well in advance of international travel often found themselves waiting for their new passports just days before their trip abroad. Travelers reported long wait times on the phone, paying additional fees for expedited service or rushed delivery, or even booking additional flights to get to a passport agency with scarce in-person appointments – if they could find one at all. Many even turned to members of Congress for help.

Read more: Still Waiting on Your Passport? Here's What You Can Do Now

To handle the unprecedented number of passport applications, the State Department added more staff and authorized tens of thousands of hours of overtime, which has helped processing times improve, a spokesperson wrote in an email to Thrifty Traveler. The State Department has increased staffing levels by 12 percent in the last year and isn't done yet – they're in the process of hiring hundreds of additional staff.

That's not all: To prevent another backlog in passport renewals, the State Department has also begun notifying passport holders reminding them when their passport is expiring, according to a spokesperson.

The State Department is also still planning to publicly launch online passport renewal. The federal government had been testing an online passport renewal system but ended the most recent pilot back in March to review the service and improve the user experience based on customer feedback.

The State Department told Thrifty Traveler they expect 5 million travelers to be eligible to renew their passports online each year, which would account for about two-thirds of all renewals and roughly 25 percent of all applications.

1 Responses

  • It’s not unclear at all. The Secretary of State made a public commitment within the past year to hire and train more staff to shorten these lead times.

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