Now that over 140 countries are welcoming U.S. citizens without restriction you’re probably eager to get out there and start collecting those entry stamps after having spent most of 2021 and 2022 saving up for the next big adventure.
However, if this will be your first time flying abroad, or your passport renewal date is due, you may want to apply for the travel document as soon as possible, as delays are now significant.
The reopening of borders has led to an unprecedented surge in flight bookings and to a controversial trend dubbed ‘revenge travel’, when millions of people who had been confined to their homes for two and a half years suddenly took to the skies en masse in hopes of making up for lost time.
Inevitably, processing times for passport issuance have increased drastically, and in case you have submitted an application recently, or you’re planning to, this is how long you’ll need to wait in line to get yours this year:
Passport Renewals Are Hit With Long Delays
Ever since COVID came under control and air travel was given the all-clear, passport issuance delays have become the norm in the United States, seriously impacting the travel plans of millions of U.S. nationals who have been waiting close to three years to jet off somewhere foreign again.
Whether they’re first-time or renewal applicants, Americans faced extreme uncertainty and risked having to postpone their trips as delivery times exceeded the initial estimate.
This was the case throughout most of 2021 and 2022, and while improvements have been noted in recent months, delays are still expected.
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Now, the U.S. Department of State, responsible for both advising American citizens on the risks of travel to certain locations, and issuing travel documents, has conceded deadlines could increase further as we approach the summer months and, thus, the peak travel season.
This winter, more than 500,000 applications have been put forth, signaling U.S. travelers could be taking trips outside the national territory in record numbers come July.
Currently, the processing times vary between 8 to 11 weeks for the ‘routine’ service and 5 to 7 weeks for the ‘expedited’ processing.
This means those who plan on leaving the country this summer need to submit an application between two to three months ahead of the planned travel date, but there is more: this delay reflects the demand for travel right now.
It may not be an accurate estimate for the remainder of the year.
It Could Get A Lot Worse As We Approach Summer
Indeed, the Department of State has admitted the timeline could get ‘even worse’ as time goes by, and the ‘busier’ travel season initiates: ‘these processing times fluctuate throughout the year depending on demand, and we anticipate that they will rise‘.
They have also reminded applicants that processing times begin when an application is received and does not include delivery times.
In other words, it may take slightly longer than 8-11 weeks for a passport to be delivered, especially now that they are seeing the ‘highest demand year ever’, surpassing previous records set in 2007 and 2017.
The entity has taken a number of measures to ensure applications are processed much quicker, such as recruiting more staff across passport agencies, opening a satellite office to expedite reviews, and even allowing the general public to submit their documents online.
Regrettably, the online option hasn’t proved a great alternative, either:
Why You Shouldn’t Opt For Online Renewal Right Away
Recently, one of our American staffers submitted an application via the online renewal system. At first, it all seemed to be going swimmingly, with the submission itself not taking longer than 15 minutes, and upon payment of the expedited processing fee, a delivery date set for a maximum of 5 weeks.
As time progressed, and she got closer to her long-awaited trip to Mexico, the application status never changed from ‘in processing’, which prompted her to contact the relevant authorities for an update.
She spent ‘countless hours’ on hold, only one week away from departure.
Facing the prospect of having to fly to a major city for a last-minute renewal appointment, she (and the passport agency itself) strongly advised fellow Americans against opting for the online renewal route.
Albeit a great initiative, the online system is still flawed, and processing times may not be much more reduced.
Essentially, if you’re expecting to board an international flight between the months of June and September, and your travel document is due to expire soon or within the next 6 to 8 months, you should consider applying immediately, without further delays.
Check The Validity On Your Passport
It is worth reminding that a majority of countries require passports with at least six months of validity left.
For example, if you’re traveling to France for a one-week vacation, and your passport is only expiring within the next three months – enough to get you to Europe and back but still below the validity requirement – you may face difficulties trying to board the plane.
Then there’s the issue of blank passport pages:
There are destinations that will only grant you entry if you have at least two full blank pages on your booklet where entry and exit stickers can be affixed, particularly in Asia.
In sum, checking the current validity of your document, as well as the number of pages left, is crucial for an international trip.
The passport book application fee starts at USD $130 for standard processing, though it can cost up to USD $60 more for expedited service. A passport card costs an additional USD $30, though it is not commonly used in the context of international travel.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
Wednesday 22nd of March 2023
No mention of going to another country to renew it? I'd think for many it would be a good strategy to just go to Bogota, Colombia for a while and renew it while there.