Record Passport Delays Have Travelers Panicking—Here's What to Know
Each week, 500,000 passport applications are filed, while the State Department deals with a huge backlog.
If you're planning to travel outside of the U.S. this summer, you're going to need an important document to enter most countries: your passport. If your government-issued identity document is up to date, congratulations—you're good to go! However, if you're getting your first passport or renewing a passport that's about to expire, ensure it doesn't conflict with your upcoming travel plans. A surge in demand for new passports and passport renewals is creating serious delays, with some documents taking as long as 13 weeks or more to arrive, up from eight weeks back in 2022.
Travelers visiting international countries typically need a passport to prove they are U.S. citizens during customs and immigration checkpoints. A U.S. driver's license can help verify your identity, but it won't cut it when you're at the airport or crossing a border.
"We're hearing from clients that they're ready to experience the world again," says Heather Snaman, business operations manager at Queen of To Do, a company specializing in travel concierge services.
Snaman says that many travelers desire "the increased mobility that comes with a U.S. passport," which grants holders visa-free access to 186 countries or territories, according to GoVisaFree.com.
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Destination Analysts, a tourism market research firm, found that 31 percent of Americans are more interested in international than domestic travel these days. If you're part of the overseas jet-set population, make sure you're your passport is up to date or risk putting off that vacation abroad a little longer.
Why are passports delayed?
International travel was extremely limited during the pandemic and slow to recover once vaccines became part of the protocol. In 2022, when many travel bans and restrictions were lifted, pent-up wanderlust began to quickly pick back up too.
Today, travel spending is four percent higher than 2019's pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The U.S. Department of State issued nearly 22 million passports in 2022, from 15.5 million in 2021.
This year is "on track to break" that record, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported during a budget hearing in March, and processing centers are "getting 500,000 applications a week for passports." Demand is so high that the Department of State hasn't been able to keep up with the unprecedented surge.
The State Department plans to hire more employees and introduce an online renewal system, but until the churn starts to regulate, travelers should anticipate longer wait times.
How long does U.S. passport processing take?
Processing times vary based on the time of year. Summer is often the busiest travel season, so those trying to get their passports in time usually apply in the late winter and early spring. Blinken noted that the surge has made demand "consistently high," which explains the passport renewal delays.
It doesn't matter whether you're getting a passport for the first time or renewing one. The Department of State notes that routine processing can take between 10 to 13 weeks, not including the time it takes to mail out your documents, which can take up to two weeks each way (two weeks from the moment you mail your completed forms and two weeks from the processing center back to your hands).
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What can I do to expedite my passport?
The State Department website says expedited processing ranges from seven to nine weeks and costs an extra $60 on top of the $130 standard application fee.
These processing times are also dependent on the location where your passport ends up. In Reddit conversations between people from different states and U.S. territories, some users report that their expedited passports are currently being processed within the advertised time range and others say they received them earlier than seven weeks, as well.
One Reddit user submitted their paperwork on April 19. It was processed at Locator 35 (a Charleston Passport Center, according to the Department of State's website), and they say that they received their expedited passport on May 18.
"I applied for mine Feb 8 ," wrote another Reddit user. "Adult new passport with $60 expedited service. And it arrived today Feb 17 . It came from [the] San Juan Passport agency."
A third Reddit user relayed that they had issues with their paperwork, which prolonged the expedited process. It involved several back-and-forth conversations over marriage certificate verification to have the name on their passport changed, and the document was lost in the mail.
"It turns out the package got delayed because it was damaged," they explained in the post. The couple had to get a Congressional representative involved and cancel part of their honeymoon while they waited for an emergency passport to be processed.
Can you travel with a soon-to-expire passport?
It depends. Many foreign countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. This is to prevent emergency situations when visitors overstay or extend their original trip plans, according to Visa Guide. If your passport expires while you're abroad, you are left without a way to return home until you receive an emergency travel document.
Some countries will allow visitors to travel with only three months' validity, but six months is the recommended time frame across all destinations. Any discrepancies could have you denied boarding at the airport and waving goodbye to friends and family on their way to summer fun.
How much is passport renewal?
The processing fee for a passport book is the same whether you're applying for a new passport, or renewing an existing one—$130 for adults and $100 for minors under 16. Additional fees include $60 to expedite the passport processing, and for folks traveling on a time crunch, there is an optional $19.53 fee for 1-2 day delivery once the passport has finished processing.
Make sure you provide the correct payment based on your needs, as the Department of State warns that "submitting incorrect passport fees could delay the processing of your application."
How do you check your passport status?
It's important to know where you are on the passport processing timeline, which is why the Department of State allows citizens to track their passport paperwork. The easiest way is by visiting the official U.S. Passport Application Status website, where registered applicants can find information like locator numbers and how far along their passport is in the process, which may help determine future travel plans depending on any unexpected issues or delays with your new passport or passport renewal.
Other status trackers are based on what kind of application you've submitted. There is a separate site for those who send in renewal documents by mail or attended in-person appointments, while those who renewed online have access to a different tracker.
Anxious travelers have also enlisted help from their local government officials. "I welcome the ability for my constituents to renew their passports through a secure paperless process," U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote in a letter to the Department of State. "However, the OPR system seems to be fraught with significant errors that have caused Virginians headaches, stress, and unfortunately in some instances, delayed or missed travel. Simply put, the service my constituents have received is unacceptable."
In some instances, Congressional offices may be able to assist in delayed passports for their constituents. However, this is on a case-by-case basis with local offices and not a guaranteed way to get your passport in time for your trip.
The bottom line
An updated passport is one of the most important items you'll need to pack, whether you're a seasoned traveler or leaving the U.S. for the first time. Knowing how long a passport can take to be processed and the if there's a current passport renewal delay could make or break your vacation plans, so check out your passport expiration date to make sure you can submit a renewal application with plenty of extra time. And if your passport is expiring soon? Well, you can always choose a transportive getaway, like U.S. National Parks or islands, where passports aren't required.