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Planning an overseas trip? Don’t even start shopping for a flight before checking your passport.
If it’s expired, you can expect a wait of up to 13 weeks for a new one, says the U.S. State Department, the federal agency that issues the documents. If you’ve never had one, the wait may be even longer.
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Expedited processing, which costs an extra $60, can take nine weeks. That timeline begins the day the government receives your application, not the day you mail it, extending the wait time even more.
The delay is caused by “unprecedented demand,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a congressional panel in March. The government is receiving more than 500,000 applications a week, and is on track to exceed last year’s record of issuing 22 million passports, Blinken said.
When to renew your passport
The best advice is to plan far ahead and renew early. “Any passport that’s even close to a year of expiring, I would just say go ahead and do it,” said Summer Hull, director of content for The Points Guy, a consumer travel website.
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Passports are generally valid for 10 years, and travelers are often surprised they need to renew, Hull said. During the pandemic, people weren’t paying attention since they weren’t traveling. “It wasn’t top of mind.” She suggests paying for expedited processing, and springing for express mail delivery. Otherwise, “it’s really a four-month process.”
Even if your passport’s still valid, you may need a new one. Some countries won’t allow entry if a passport expires within six months.
Even people without international travel plans should check their passport, the State Department says.
Those with loved ones overseas or children or grandchildren in study-abroad programs may have to travel unexpectedly. “We often see people who need to make last-minute travel plans in situations such as these,” says Andres Rodriguez, lead community relations officer for passport services at the State Department. “Be prepared just in case.”
Travel demand after pandemic contributes to woes
Passport problems are a hassle, often expensive and can cancel a trip. Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover costs due to passport issues. And although it’s possible to get documents issued at the last minute, it may require spending hours on the phone trying to schedule an appointment and traveling hundreds of miles to visit a federal passport office in person.