The days of mailing in your passport for renewal and waiting weeks – if not months – for a new one may be coming to an end.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order this week that would allow Americans to easily renew their passports online. That’s a drastic change from the current renewal system, which requires mailing in a renewal form with your current passport – a process that can take up to 12 weeks or more.
Renewing a passport by mail (or a last-minute in-person appointment) has always been a hassle – especially in our digital age. But issues with passports reached new heights during the pandemic, as State Department office closures led to lengthy backlogs: Over the summer, the State Department recommended submitting any passport applications or renewals at least six months before international travel. That seems to have improved, but bringing renewals online could help speed up the process even more.
But the timing of when you may actually be able to renew a passport online is up in the air. Biden’s executive order merely directs the Secretary of State’s office to “design and deliver a new online passport renewal experience that does not require any physical documents to be mailed.”
That means it could be months – even many months – before the ability to renew passports online is available. No one in Biden’s administration has set a date or explained the timeline. In fact, the only additional detail the White House has provided is that the process will be done “with safety and security.”
It’s also unclear if the easier, automated process will result in lower fees to renew a passport. It currently costs $110 – or $170 for expedited turnaround.
Renewing a passport is a regular part of life for Americans with international travel on their agendas. Passports expire every 10 years, or every five years for children under 16. But in practice that window may be slightly shorter, as many countries around the globe require at least six months of validity on a passport to allow entry.
Bringing that process online was one of several goals Biden set in his executive order designed to improve everyday government services. That order also directs the Director of Homeland Security to “test the use of innovative technologies” at airport security checkpoints in order to reduce TSA wait times.
It’s almost hard to believe it took until the end of 2021 for this to get set in motion. Better late than never, right?
In due time, you should be able to promptly renew your passport online – a huge improvement over today’s mail-in requirements. But exactly when that will be available remains unclear.