If you want to travel internationally in the next six months and you don't have a passport or yours is set to expire in that time frame, act now to apply for one or renew yours.
Due to increased demand, a shortage of appointments and delays with the U.S. Post Service, the State Department now says that those applying for a new or renewed passport should expect to wait up to 18 weeks for their document. That wait time drops to 12 weeks if you pay $60 extra for expedited processing.
The delays have taken prospective travelers by surprise and many have turned to their elected representatives for help.
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Travelers caught off guard by passport application delays
U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) said his office is getting a tremendous number of requests for help with expedited passports.
Typically, Stanton’s staff processes 10-12 emergency passport requests from Phoenix residents in a month. The office received 20 last week alone.
“We want to make sure that people are aware of the new State Department recommendation to apply for the passport six months before planned travel,” Stanton said.
That means if you hope to travel late this fall or early next spring, the time to apply is now.
“We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to go on their long-planned vacations or see loved ones. If your passport did expire during the pandemic, it’s going to take a while to get that new one so we’re asking people to plan ahead,” Stanton said.
Passport appointments are hard to get
There are several reasons for the delays. State Department offices were closed for several months last year during the worst of the pandemic, and some people decided to hold off renewing their passports since most travel was on lockdown.
Combine those factors with the resurgence of confidence in travel and you get a big demand for passports.
Most passport acceptance facilities — like post offices, clerks of court and public libraries — are back open and accepting applications but may have limited appointment availability.
“Passport demand is considerable at the moment as customers in Phoenix and across the country look forward to expanded travel opportunities. We’re working to increase passport application availability, but USPS isn't the only passport agent of the State Department,” Rod Spurgeon, spokesperson for the USPS in Phoenix, said.
He urged first-time applicants to check for appointments at county clerks, libraries or State Department passport offices. If you just need to renew your passport, the State Department urges you to do that by mail.
Long waits for postal returns
Typically, the State Department estimates that those applying for routine services can get their passport through the mail within 12 weeks. That timeline is six weeks if you pay the $60 fee to expedite it.
However, the processing time begins the day your application is received, not the day you mail it, and that's where passport seekers also are seeing delays.
“Some of our service providers have been experiencing operational issues which result in delays in applications getting to our passport agencies and centers. These service providers include the U.S. Postal Service and the intake facility that processes payments and enters applications into our systems,” a State Department official said via email.
The department said that due to those delays “routine service can take up to 18 weeks from the day a customer submits their application to the day they receive a new passport," which includes six weeks' mailing time.
If you choose expedited service, you should expect to wait up to 12 weeks for your new passport to arrive.
What to do if you have an emergency
With those delays in mind, Stanton's office is urging people who think they may travel in the next six months to start the application process now.
If you have more pressing plans or an emergency, you have a couple of options if you need a new passport.
You can go to one of the State Department's passport agencies and get same-day service. But, that comes with a couple of caveats.
First, you'll need an appointment, which are mostly reserved for cases involving life and death emergencies. Appointments can be made online at passportappointment.travel.state.gov/.
In an emergency, you also can reach out to your congressional representative's or senator's office for help. They have staff who help constituents navigate issues with government agencies, including the Department of State.
"If you're in an emergency, contact our office. But if you're not in an emergency and just thinking about it, plan ahead and get that passport process going right away," Stanton said.
SOURCE: USA Today, Melissa Yeager, Arizona Republic (July 7, 2021); Photo Credit - Pixabay Free Images
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