If you’re wanting to travel abroad within the next six months and don’t have a valid passport, you might be out of luck. As travel continues to ramp back up, a backlog of 1.5 to 2 million applications is resulting in wait times of 12 to 18 weeks. Even expedited processing, which used to take 2-3 weeks, is at 12 weeks right now. In this new travel environment, it’s more important than ever to plan well in advance, knowing how to correctly submit your renewal documents. Here’s our latest advice.
What’s causing the long delays? With the pandemic there was very little travel, meaning that renewing passports wasn’t a priority for most. When restrictions eased, the massive uptick in applications created a backlog, and paired with staffing shortages at processing centers resulted in a perfect storm. The State Department has announced that over 150 staff will return to work at 21 processing centers across the U.S. which should help increase capacity. But there is going to be a ramping-up period as this issue corrects itself, so expect 12-18 week wait times for a while.
How do I submit an application? This depends on several factors. First, check if you’re eligible to apply by mail. In order to do this, you must meet the following criteria:
- Passport was issued in the last 15 years
- Passport was issued under your current name
- You were over the age of 16 when you received your passport
- Passport is undamaged, has not been stolen, last (and later found) or mutilated
As long as you can say “yes” to all of these questions, you can download, print and fill out the correct form and begin gathering the additional paperwork. If you cannot answer “yes” to all of the questions you’ll need to apply in person at a passport processing center.
Paperwork needed. You’ve filled out the application, now it’s time to gather the paperwork. Getting this right the first time is critical. Even under expedited processing, you’ll lose 6 weeks if there’s an error with paperwork. In order to complete a passport renewal, you’ll need to provide:
- A completed DS-82 form
- Your current passport (don’t worry about all the beautiful visa stamps you’ve accumulated: you’ll get it back!)
- Name-change certificates if your name is different from what is printed on your current passport (a marriage certificate, for example)
- An acceptable passport photo (more on that below)
- A check made out to the “U.S. Department of State” and with the full name and birth date of the applicant written on the front, to cover the fee – starting at $110 for adults.
Once you’ve gathered all the required items, you’re ready to drop them in the mail! Without folding them, place everything in a large envelope. When mailing it, make sure to purchase tracking so you know when it arrives. The address is listed on the DS-82 form. Because the address is a PO box, you should only send it via U.S. mail (not FedEx, UPS, etc.).
Photo. Passport photo requirements are strict and improper photos are the main reason applications are denied. Here are the protocols that must be followed:
- The photo must be 2×2 inches (50×50 mm)
- The photos must be in color, taken in the last 6 months
- The background must be white or off-white
- Your face needs to be looking directly into the camera, your eyes must be opened (except for infants) and the expression needs to be natural (smiling is acceptable)
- The face must be 1-1 3/8 inches (25-35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
- No glasses (unless a signed statement of medical condition from a healthcare provider is included), no hats and no head coverings (unless they are worn for religious reasons
If you are taking the photo at home (with the help of someone else, no selfies), we highly recommend the Department of State’s photo tool which will help determine if your photo is acceptable. You can also get a photo taken at many office/shipping centers, pharmacies and retail stores.
Emergency situations. If you need a passport renewed quickly, we’ve heard of clients calling their U.S. representative or senator to have them contact the passport office. This has worked in some cases and not in others. If you need a passport for life-or-death emergencies or urgent travel within 72 hours, there are limited options for getting a passport quickly but you must make an appointment and show up in-person to a designated passport processing center. Another situation is Americans abroad with an expired passport – the State Department has announced that you can reenter the U.S. until December 31, 2021 with a passport that expired on or after January 1, 2020.
Other options. If you’re craving a vacation within the next six months but don’t have a passport, let’s work together on booking an amazing U.S. getaway! While waiting for your new passport to arrive, there are still many options that don’t require a passport including Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the only all-inclusive resort in the U.S.
Waiting 12-18 weeks can be a headache, but with early planning you can get your passport renewed and be ready for international travel again!