Passport Renewal and Applications Have a Major Backlog

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If you have plans to travel internationally in the coming months, it’s time to open that desk, safe, or shoebox and check the expiration on your U.S. passport. If it’s still valid, terrific, enjoy your trip. But if that passport is past its expiration date and you want to travel soon, time may be running out. Due to a passport backlog that’s in the millions, renewing your passport could take up to four months.

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Like a lot of things during the COVID-19 pandemic, passport offices (aka the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs offices) closed. Across the country, unless it was a life-or-death emergency, passport and visa operations came to a halt. While those offices are reopening, the process has not been a fast one.

In a recent U.S. Department of State briefing, deputy assistant secretary for passport services Rachel Arndt told reporters that due to the closures and a higher demand for international travel, delays are considerable.

“…Currently our wait time for both new and renewal routine passport applications can be up to 18 weeks, and that includes our processing time, the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing,” said Arndt.

Want to pay an extra $60 to expedite your passport application? It will save you some time, but not a lot of it. Arndt said the wait times on expedited applications are currently up to 12 weeks. She also said the current passport backlog was significant—“somewhere in the range of a million and a half to 2 million applications.”

If you do have urgent travel plans within 72 hours, there are some appointments available for U.S. travelers. However, those appointments are extremely limited. And while some third-party booking services are offering appointments, Arndt says the department is not affiliated with any booking services and may not honor those appointments.

With more countries opening by the day—including Canada in mid-August—the urge to travel internationally is growing. If you’ve got that urge, but need a passport, you’ll want to get to a move on. If not, you can always consider alternate travel plans within the U.S..

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