While the State Department expects delays to shorten through the rest of 2023, travelers should continue to plan well ahead, a Department spokesperson said.
The Department’s message to U.S. citizens: Apply at least six months in advance of your planned travel or passport expiration date, the spokesperson said.
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Passport applications are at all-time high
More Americans planned trips abroad this year as their pandemic-era health fears waned and countries largely reopened their borders to visitors.
The State Department issued a record 22 million passports in fiscal year 2022. It’s on track to break that record again in fiscal year 2023, which ends Sept. 30, a spokesperson said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified to Congress in March that the volume of passport applications has been “unprecedented.” Applications typically ebb and flow with the seasons, peaking from March to late summer, but “basically it’s full time now,” Blinken said.
The Department also had to re-staff positions that were reassigned or eliminated when passport demand cratered in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.
How to get your passport faster
The State Department’s six-month recommendation takes into account longer processing times, as well as padding for things like mailing on both ends of the process.
Americans should review current processing times before making any definite or non-refundable travel plans, a Department spokesperson said.
A routine passport application currently takes 10 to 13 weeks to process, according to the State Department. A traditional passport — a passport book — costs $130. First-time applicants must pay an additional $35 acceptance fee.
Travelers can pay more for faster service. Expedited passport processing costs an extra $60. Expedited passports currently take seven to nine weeks.
For comparison, before the pandemic it took two to three weeks for expedited passports and six to eight weeks for routine passport processing, the State Department said. It hopes to return to that cadence by year’s end.
The time estimates for expedited and routine passports haven’t changed since March 24.
Processing estimates don’t include mailing times. That may take an additional month: up to two weeks for applications to arrive at a passport agency or center, and another two weeks to receive a printed passport.
Travelers can buy expedited delivery of a new passport book by mail (for delivery in one to two days) for an extra $19.53.
They can also send an application more quickly by purchasing Priority Mail Express service from the United States Postal Service. The price varies depending on the area of the country, according to the State Department.
In some circumstances, travelers may be able to speed up the process further.
Life-or-Death Emergency Service is available for people with a qualified emergency who are traveling abroad in the next three business days. Urgent Travel Service is for those traveling abroad within 14 calendar days (for those who haven’t yet applied for a passport) or five days (for those who have already applied).
Whether you’ve opted for routine processing or some form of expedited help, you can check your application status online and sign up for email updates.
A soon-to-expire passport may still cost you
U.S. passports are generally valid for 10 years. They’re valid for five years if issued before age 16.
In some cases, Americans may not be allowed to travel even if their passport hasn’t yet expired. Some countries disallow entry if a passport’s expiration falls just a few months after a trip’s end date.
Many countries in the Asia Pacific and Middle East require at least six months of validity for permission to enter. Other areas, such as Hong Kong and Macau, require one month.
“Even if you don’t have a trip on the books yet, but your passport is going to expire sometime in the first half of 2024, I’d absolutely just renew it now,” Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet, previously told CNBC.
You may also need to apply for a separate visa to enter certain nations, a process that requires additional time and planning. The State Department has information about passport and visa requirements for specific countries.