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Why You Should Think Twice About Renewing Your Passport Online

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Gearing up for your next international trip by renewing your passport? You may want to think twice about using the new online passport renewal system if you want to get your passport back in time for your travels once the system reopens.

Woman using laptop while drinking coffee

About The System

The U.S. Department of State started testing an online passport renewal system in September of 2022, which quickly opened up to the general public. Prior to this, travelers could only renew via mail or in person. At first glance, this seems like a significant step in the right direction of modernizing the process of passport renewal in the U.S., but many travelers are of the opinion that the program tried to run before it could walk.

Department of State

In Recent News

Standard processing time for passport renewals has just jumped to 8 to 11 weeks as demand for travel in Spring and Summer has increased. Online passport renewals were meant to be a way to speed up the processing time, but many travelers have found the opposite to be true.

In fact, as of March 8th, the online passport renewal system has been ‘paused’. After our recent experience, it isn’t hard to see why.

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A Woman Holding Up A Passport As She Types On Her Computer

Authors Anecdote

In a series of events that eventually led to one of our staff members meeting in person at a passport agency in D.C. for an “imminent travel” appointment, they were told by the passport agency employee to “tell all of your friends not to use the online passport system.”

Well friends, this is us doing our jobs. Don’t use the online passport system. Why, you may ask?

Washington passport agency

Here is our experience:

On January 14th, one of our staffers decided to take advantage of the online passport renewal system. The process of applying was very easy and only took about 15 minutes. They paid extra for expedited processing, and she was told to expect their passport in 3-5 weeks — just in time for an upcoming trip to Mexico.

As the weeks went by, the status on her application read “in processing” every time she checked. This wasn’t too worrisome until she was less than two weeks out from an international trip. Now it was time to worry.

Two travelers looking at a laptop as they plan their trip

Getting An Imminent Travel Appointment

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself needing an imminent travel appointment, make sure you have countless hours on hand to spend on hold. Then, when you finally get to talk to someone, don’t expect any appointments to be available — at least not anywhere convenient.

The full list of passport agencies available for imminent travel appointments can be found here, and you can see that for many travelers in the States, there aren’t many great options.

Man on the phone at computer

For example, if you lived in Lexington, Kentucky, your closest options would be Atlanta, Washington D.C., or Chicago. However, that’s assuming you are lucky enough to snag an appointment at one of those locations in the first place.

Our staffer was lucky enough to be in the D.C. area at the time she needed an appointment but had to spend 15 cumulative hours on the phone in order to be able to secure an appointment there.

Each time she called the agency, she was put on hold for up to 30 minutes. When someone picked up, and she told them she had renewed online, she was transferred and put on hold for anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour and a half.

us passport macbook laptop

After passing that gauntlet, she then had to explain her situation, and the agent would begin to try to secure an imminent travel appointment. In her first 6 or 7 attempts, the only options were for appointments in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Los Angeles. Imagine having to book a $1,000 round-trip flight just to get your passport that should have already been delivered.

Finally, after talking to a dozen different agents and being told there were no appointments available time and time again, she got extremely lucky and was able to snag an appointment in D.C. after a cancelation.

A beautiful reflection of cherry blossoms and the monument in Washington DC, Alaska's newest destination from San Diego

If You Get An Appointment

If you are one of the lucky few who has the patience and persistence to call over and over and over again to get an appointment, you’ll have to fill out an application by hand, get passport photos, and bring your old passport to your appointment — undoing the convenience of the online renewal option.

Once you head to your appointment with all of your documents, you’ll turn them all in and get your passport within a few hours. Don’t go to a passport agency without an appointment! The airport-style security will not let you through without one, and you will be wasting your time.

American Traveler Holding A U.S. Passport

Should You Use The System?

According to an employee at the D.C. passport agency, many travelers have had nothing but problems with the system. Additionally, many of the other people who had their appointment the same day as our staffer were there for the exact same reason. To quote the employee, “tell all your friends not to use the online renewal system.”

Once the system is back up and running, travelers should probably stick to the tried-and-true mail-in system until the new online system has had time to work out all the kinks.

Read More:

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Sara

Friday 1st of December 2023

Clearly if you have a set date with travel plans the online renewal isn't for you. I had the opportunity to use it twice in the August roll out and it was seamless both times. Passports arrived in 7 and 8 weeks. No problems. So the system worked just fine, the expedited issue caused the problems. I am currently waiting for it to open for another member of the family who needs a renewal.

Anna

Wednesday 29th of March 2023

I submitted my renewal on January 21. Requested expedited renewal and paid for express shipping, as I had an international trip on March 18, 9 weeks away. Needless to say, I did not receive my passport on time. I spent hours trying to get through an agent. Finally, 2 days before my trip I managed to talk to someone who told me there are no appointments available anywhere. Suggested to ask for. Refund for the expedited service. As for cancelling my trip and loosing $1000+ on the airfare? That is not their concern. Now, on March 29, I finally got an email that my passport is in the mail, should be arriving in 2 weeks. What about the express shipping I paid for? My husband applied the same day as I did. His passport is not processed yet, and does not know when, if ever, it will be processed.

This is worse than a third-world country. That a government agency can make people wait on hold for 5-7 hours is unimaginable.

Leslie

Saturday 18th of March 2023

Applied online for my husband and myself December 10, 22. Mine came in about 7 weeks. His came in about 9 weeks. The process was easy. Photos were easy to upload from my computer. I thought it was so much easier than mailing. Hopefully, once they iron out the glitches, this will be the easiest way to renew.

Oliver Maruna

Wednesday 15th of March 2023

State Department is a total failure. I lost over $3000 on flight and hotels that I couldn't cancel, plus broken hearts and a ruined vacation. I have waited on hold for over 20 hours over 8 calls. One call I had to hold for over 5 hours. When you get a message that says your wait is over 2 and half hours, that doesn't mean 2 and half hours, it just means it could be anytime over that. You'll see. My wife and I were planning to celebrate our 10 year anniversary in Egypt, and we planned everything out. It is her dream to see the pyramids. The passport was the least of my worries, the online portal confirmed to us that it wouldn't accept the passport unless it could deliver it before the flight. All this information was put in ahead of time. Our trip was over 5 weeks away, we are scheduled to fly Friday March 17. My application was put in on February 2. I paid for the expedited service which guaranteed my passport in 3-5 weeks. My passport was valid until Sept 23 2023, but I wanted to be safe with the 6 month passport validity so I decided to renew my passport. When I say online nothing was happening, I called last week and the agent, after a 3 hour hold, told me not to worry, it is still processing. Call back next week if you haven't received your passport, when you are 5 days within your trip they can find an appointment for me. That made sense, if figured urgent travel would take priority. I live in Los Angeles, so figured a trip to the Fed building on Wilshire would take care of that. After calling on Monday and Tuesday, the online system was down, and not appointments were available. Then finally tuesday night I got hold of agent Linda, who said we have one appointment in San Francisco Wednesday at 11, what do you want to do? I said in San Francisco? Do you mean I have to drive there? What about LA? She said no, just San Francisco. You have start you application all over if you want to do that. Then while she was explaining this, she laughed mockingly and said, see its gone now. No there are no appointments at all anywhere on the west coast. What? Well what can you do? Nothing, she said. You just can't travel. Then she hung up. I called again later, went through another grueling hold, and asked if they can reinstate my old passport which is valid until Sept 23. No, the agent Janet said. Once you apply for a new passport, the old one is invalid. She didn't want to deal with me, as much as I explained my situation, just want to transfer me to the online line queue where I remained stuck on the longest wait time of my life. The next morning, from everyone's advice, including an immigration lawyer friend, I went to Federal building in LA. There was a line all the way to the parking lot. The passport security there laughed and said you need an appointment, there's no way your getting into this building. He pointed to a phone number that has the same number on it that I am hold on for hours. I'm done. If a reporter or lawyer wants to contact me, please do. I have screen shots of my hold times on the travelgov website. This is just not right. I did everything right. My government can't do this kind of thing, it unethical. Lets do everything we can people, to make this wrong a right. America shouldn't work like this. Oliver Maruna

Sonal

Wednesday 15th of March 2023

I applied online Jan 17, paying for expedited processing and shipping. I have an international flight to visit family in a few days. I waited 7hrs and 31 minutes yesterday to speak with someone and they couldn't help me as apparently there were no appointments at any passport agencies anywhere in the country within the next 5 days. Seems likely I'll have to cancel this trip

Tyler Fox

Wednesday 15th of March 2023

We ran into the same issue. Unfortunately your only hope is to keep calling back over and over again. Appointments come and go by the second, but they will not hold any for you and they will not call you back so you have to get lucky and catch them at the right time when an appointment is open.