Planning on summer travel and need a passport? You need to apply right now —yes, in March — to get one in time for “what is expected to be our busiest summer travel season on record,” according to the State Department.
In a statement issued late last week, the State Department called current passport requests “unprecedented,” adding the department is “on track to set the record for the highest demand year ever.”
As a result, they’re warning travelers that processing routine passport applications is taking 10 to 13 weeks, while expedited applications, which incur an additional $60 charge in addition to the $130 application fee, are taking 7 to 9 weeks.
Note that these times begin when the agency receives the application.
The State Department says travelers should account for about two weeks for the agency to receive the application in the mail, plus another two weeks to receive the completed passport after they mail it back. (Note that you can pay for expedited shipping to shorten this part of the process to 1 to 2 days).
If you choose not to pay for expedited service and shipping, you could be looking at a four-month turnaround for standard passport processing. However, even the best-case expedited scenario clocks in at nearly two months. In other words, don’t delay if you need to renew or apply for a passport.
The 6-Month Passport Validity Rule
Even if it seems as though you have plenty of time to renew, take a closer look at both the expiration date on your passport and the rules at your destination.
A six-month passport validity requirement is necessary for entry to many countries worldwide. This is true for many African, Asian, and Pacific nations, as well as some South American destinations. Additionally, some countries require a three-month validity window. This applies to most of the 27 countries in the European Schengen Area.
If you’re heading to one of these areas in the near future and have less than a year left on your passport, you’ll need to start the renewal process soon.
What to Do If You Need a Passport Right Away
If you have ticketed travel to a destination and require a passport immediately, there are some workarounds to this long wait. The state department considers travel “urgent” if you’ve applied for a passport, have not received it yet, and are traveling in the next five days. In this case, you can go to a passport agency or center in person. This service is by appointment only, and these must be made by phone by calling 1-877-487-2778.
If you have yet to apply for a passport and need one in the next 14 days, you can also make an appointment to visit a passport center in person. Note that you must have an appointment in advance and that the agency warns, “Appointments are limited, and we cannot guarantee that one will be available.”
Do you need to renew quickly with travel booked more than two weeks out? Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get an appointment “unless you need a foreign visa within the next 28 days,” says the State Department.
Additionally, there is a “life and death” emergency appointment option if you need to travel within the next 72 hours. For this option, you must provide proof of the emergency circumstances and evidence of pre-booked travel.