According to the U.S. State Department’s website, current renewal times for U.S. passports are 10-13 weeks, not including the time it takes to mail in your old passport or the time it takes for your new one to be mailed to you. If you pay an extra $60 on top of the $130 regular fee, the expedited time is 7-9 weeks, though, according to a new report from the Associated Press, you may not want to try and cut it close to either if you’re planning to go abroad and have a passport that needs to be renewed. Because the alternative sounds like travel hell.
Because of so-called “revenge travel” — the idea that all of us have been cooped up for too long because of the pandemic and, you know, it sure would be nice to see the world before we die — passport applications and renewals have surged to around half-a-million passport applications per week, according to the AP, and the State Department thinks that for 2023 it will issue more than the 22 million passports it issued last year.
That has led to long waits for passports, which the government has said are due to worker shortages, and also the lingering effects of restarting processes that largely stalled early in the pandemic, when no one was going much of anywhere and the demand for passports was low.
At any rate, as documented by the AP, there are travelers that have unknowingly risked their trips so you don’t have to. Take this poor traveler:
It was early March when Dallas-area florist Ginger Collier applied for four passports ahead of a family vacation at the end of June. The clerk, she said, estimated wait times at eight to 11 weeks. They’d have their passports a month before they needed them. “Plenty of time,” Collier recalled thinking.
Then the State Department upped the wait time for a regular passport to as much as 13 weeks. “We’ll still be okay,” she thought.
At T-minus two weeks to travel, this was her assessment: “I can’t sleep.” This after months of calling, holding, pressing refresh on a website, trying her member of Congress — and stressing as the departure date loomed. Failure to obtain the family’s passports would mean losing $4,000, she said, as well as the chance to meet one of her sons in Italy after a study-abroad semester.
“My nerves are shot, because I may not be able to get to him,” she said. She calls the toll-free number every day, holds for as much as 90 minutes to be told — at best — that she might be able to get a required appointment at passport offices in other states.
“I can’t afford four more plane tickets anywhere in the United States to get a passport when I applied in plenty of time,” she said. “How about they just process my passports?”
She ultimately did get her passports and made their trip after showing up in person at an office in Dallas and waiting for several hours just days before their flight was to leave. But not everyone was so lucky:
Miranda Richter applied in person to renew passports for herself and her husband, as well as apply a new one on Feb. 9 for a trip with their neighbors to Croatia on June 6. She ended up canceling, losing more than $1,000.
Her timeline went like this: Passports for her husband and daughter arrived in 11 weeks, while Richter’s photo was rejected. On May 4, she sent in a new one via priority mail. Then she paid a rush fee of $79, which was never charged to her credit card. Between May 30 and June 2, four days before travel, Richter and her husband spent more than 12 hours on the national passport line while also calling their congressman, senators and third-party couriers.
Finally, she showed up in person at the federal building in downtown Houston, 30 minutes before the passport office opened. Richter said there were at least 100 people in line.
“The security guard asked when is my appointment, and I burst out in tears,” she recalls. She couldn’t get one. “It didn’t work.”
I may or may not have stopped reading this article halfway through to confirm that my passport doesn’t expire until 2027, so hopefully in a few years when I need to renew the State Department will be out of the muck, but it seems likely that, now, for the foreseeable future, it’s reasonable to expect the unexpected if you’re going somewhere and need to renew or get a first-time passport and to start getting that shit done at least six months in advance. Or even earlier than you think you might, given that many countries require at least six months of passport validity to let you in. A great way to ruin your trip abroad is to spend several weeks beforehand stressing out. Or so I have read.