Passport delays are still long: Apply at least 6 months ahead of travel, says State Department

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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

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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 passport book costs $130. First-time applicants must pay an additional $35 acceptance fee.

Travelers can pay more for faster service. Extra $60 is charged for expedited passport processing. The State Department says that expedited passports take between seven and nine weeks. Before the pandemic, it took only two to three days for expedited passports, while routine passports took six to eight. 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

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U.S. Passports in the U.S. are valid for a minimum of 10 years. Some countries will not allow entry if a passport expires just a few months after the end of a trip. Many countries in Asia Pacific and the Middle East require a minimum of six months validity to be allowed entry. Hong Kong and Macau require a month. You may also need to apply for a separate visa in order to enter certain nations, a process that requires additional time and planning.