If you're planning an international vacation and need to apply for or renew your U.S. passport, it's important to start the process as soon as possible.
As Americans continue to book post-pandemic travel, a massive influx of applications has caused a bottleneck — which means travelers have to wait a "painfully long time" to get their passport, says Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommers.com.
Here's how long it will take you to get your passport, and some tips to help ensure you'll get yours in time for your trip.
"The State Department has said it's going to take six weeks more than usual to get your passports," Frommer says.
This means that routine service currently takes up to 18 weeks, while expedited service, which costs an extra $60, takes up to 12 weeks, according to the U.S. Department of State website.
"They haven't explained why there is such a big delay," she says. "But my guess is people weren't traveling for a good year and now, like so many other things, there is far greater demand than there is supply."
The delays apply to rush orders, as well. "In the past you used to be able to get your passport expedited if you had an upcoming trip, but because of the huge backlog expediting only seems to be happening if it's a life-and-death situation," Frommer says.
Covid-19 paired with the backlog is slowing down the passport process, says Desiree Overhage, a luxury travel advisor who has been helping with client requests for passport renewals. "Besides the ever-changing and complicated travel restrictions and requirements of each country, we are now facing hurdles when it comes to our client's passport expiration dates as there is a backlog of 1.5 to 2 million cases," she says.
1. Set yourself calendar reminders for renewing your passport
"Apply at least six months ahead of your travel dates for a new passport," Overhage suggests. This way, your travel date won't sneak up on you and you can avoid an expediting fee. Remember that passports of travelers 16 years or younger expire every five years, not every 10 as adults' passports do. Even if you don't need a new passport, be sure to check whether any children you are traveling with need to renew.
Check your destination country's entry requirements to see if you need more buffer room: Some countries won't let you enter if your passport expires within six months.
2. Try for a walk-in appointment
"For faster service, call a passport agency in your area and ask if they allow walk-ins or, even better, go in person to schedule your appointment," Overhage says. "Showing up in person will most likely speed up the process." Usually, this only works in life-or-death situations, she says, but if you show up with all your documents, Overhage has heard of cases where this works for even routine service.
3. Expedite shipping as well as processing
If you're in a rush and need to expedite the passport process, don't forget to pay extra for fast shipping, too, Frommer says. "Mail is taking longer too and many people are [applying] by mail," she says. "Pay extra for two-day shipping and cross your fingers."
Whatever you do, expect delays, says Frommer: "You need to plan more than you did before."
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