Need a Passport for a Trip? Give Yourself a Big Time Cushion

If you are a procrastinator, and your passport is about to expire soon, you should make sure you have no plans for an international trip within the next four month. The U.S. Department of State warns of delays in issuance and renewal of passports.

If you’re renewing an existing passport

Passport renewal applications can be done in person or by mail. The State Department recommends that you allow at least 18 weeks between the date you submit your passport application to the day you receive it. This is more than four months.

That’s based on a combination of processing delays from two different government agencies. For standard passport processing service, the State Department anticipates 12 weeks for processing. You should also budget six additional weeks for mailing (that is, both the submission of your application materials as well as receiving your passport). This is due to mail delays linked to COVID-19 and employee availability, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Plus, that doesn’t even account for time to put together your application. Although it isn’t as difficult as first-time passport applications you will still need to work hard to gather the necessary materials. For example, a photograph of your last six months.

If you’re applying for a first-time passport

Children under age 16, first-time applicants and applicants who had their passport lost or stolen must apply in person — no mail-only option is allowed. But due to staffing shortages and other COVID-19-related issues, it can be tough to get an appointment at a local acceptance facility, which is typically a post office, library or city clerk’s office.

Appointments are required at some, but not all, locations. After you have submitted your application at an acceptance facility, be prepared for the same long processing times as renewal applicants.

And again, make time to gather your application materials, which includes evidence of U.S. citizenship for new passports. You may not have the time or patience to locate your birth certificate in the dusty box of your parents’ garage. However, you might be able to travel internationally within 18 weeks.

Your passport may need at least six months’ validity remaining

Sometimes, even a valid passport that’s set to expire soon might be insufficient. Some countries require passports that are valid for at least six months after your travel dates.

So even if your passport doesn’t expire until 2022, your 2021 holiday travel plans may be in jeopardy if your passport expires within six months of that trip. Some airlines won’t allow you to board if your passport expires within this time frame. Check the State Department’s Country Information page . to see which countries have these requirements.

What if you can’t wait that long to renew your passport?

With luck — and some extra money — you may be able to get your passport sooner than 18 weeks. The State Department offers a few types of rush passport services:

Pay extra for expedited service by mail

For an additional $60, you can have your passport processed and sent to you in 12 weeks (versus the standard 18 weeks). You should still plan for at least three months turnaround time.

Additionally, the State Department recommends purchasing rush mail delivery, which costs an additional $17. 56 to receive your passport within 1-2 days.

Use this service if: You need your passport within the next 12-18 weeks.

Claim a life-or-death emergency

Hopefully you don’t fall in this category, but if you have an eligible life-or-death emergency (eligible reasons include having an immediate family member outside of the U.S. who has died, is in hospice care, or has a life-threatening illness or injury) and you need to travel to a foreign country within three business days, you may qualify for an emergency, in-person appointment.

You’ll have to provide proof of the emergency, such as a death certificate or letter from the hospital, plus your airline ticket and passport application. To make an appointment, you will call State Department’s Life or Death Emergency Service number .

There are only about two dozen locations nationwide offering such appointments, so you’ll likely need to make domestic travel plans just to get that rush passport.

And to make matters worse, you can’t make an appointment online. The State Department had to shut down its online booking system due to the huge backlog. It is still not available. Allow extra time for listening to the on-hold music.

Use this service if: You need your passport within three business days and you have a valid emergency.

Hope for the best

You may also qualify for a rush passport if you have urgent international travel plans within three business days but don’t have emergency proof.

Appointments are extremely limited though, and the State Department warns that there’s no guarantee you’ll get an appointment. You’ll need to call the same number as the emergency procedure (no online appointments) and go in person to get your passport at one of the roughly two dozen locations across the country.

Use this service if: You need your passport within three business days.

The bottom line

International travel might be the last thing on your mind right now, but here’s something you never want on your mind: stressing over a rushed passport.

Beyond just the agony, rush passports can be expensive given the fees for expedited service, the cost of faster shipping and the potential extra trip to visit one of the few emergency passport centers.

Check now to see when your passport expires. Start the application process if it is within the next year. It’s not easy to travel these days. There are many factors that can make it difficult, but an expired passport shouldn’t be one.

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