International travel is back with a vengeance, and so are passport applications. The State Department is on track to set records for the number of applications received and issued. This fiscal year, for example, the agency expects to receive at least 2 million more applications than it did in 2017, its previous high.
The surge in applications — 400,000 a week in June — has caused travelers with impending trips abroad to scramble or, in the worst-case scenario, scratch their plans. To avoid issues, here is what you need to know if you are about to submit your application or your paperwork is already in the pipeline.
Passport wait times are up again. Don’t let them spoil a trip.
Where passport delays and processing times stand
In late March, the State Department extended the processing times to 10 to 13 weeks for routine service and seven to nine weeks for expedited submissions. The agency said it hopes to return to the pre-pandemic times of six to eight weeks and two to three weeks, respectively, by the end of the year.
“The department is experiencing a surge in passport demand, and during some weeks we are seeing twice as many applications pending compared to the same point in Fiscal Year 2022,” the State Department said by email. In the last fiscal year, the department received more than 18.6 million applications and issued nearly 22 million passport books and cards.
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To handle the demand, the agency has been taking an all-hands-on-deck approach. In addition to hiring new employees, the department is allowing staff to work overtime. From January through June, it authorized 30,000 to 40,000 monthly overtime hours. Retirees and new staff members are also pitching in.
The agency said that, as of June 22, it has been issuing more than 97 percent of passports within its stated processing times, if not sooner. However, to be safe, travelers should apply at least six months before their trip. Be sure to factor in mailing time — outbound and inbound. To shave off some time, spring for expedited service ($60) and Priority Mail Express (about $20), which takes a day or two for delivery.
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How to get a passport quickly
Travelers with imminent trips or a “life-or-death emergency” have a few additional options. If your departure falls within two weeks, call the National Passport Information Center to make an appointment at a passport center or agency. The facilities do not accept walk-ins, and appointments are limited. If the location closest to you is booked, you may need to drive a distance — or even get on a plane — to get to a passport agency. You can find locations here.
The life-or-death emergency category covers people who need to travel because a family member living outside the United States has died, is dying or is suffering from a life-threatening illness or injury. You can book your appointment up to two weeks in advance, but the appointment date cannot exceed three days before your trip. You must bring documentation of the emergency and proof of your travel plans.
You can also contact your state’s legislators for help, though this approach isn’t surefire. On his website, Rep. John Sarbanes informs his Maryland constituents that they can submit a request for passport assistance, but he warns, “Please note that my office will make every effort to assist you, but cannot guarantee that a passport will be issued prior to travel.”
Where can I travel without a passport?
Obviously, you don’t need a passport to visit any of the 50 states. Nor do you need it for several U.S. territories that seem worlds away, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. For the territories in the Caribbean, a driver’s license will suffice. For Guam, visitors will need to present an original or certified copy of their birth certificate in addition to a government-issued ID. American Samoa requires a ticket out of the South Pacific territory.
Starting on May 7, 2025, you will need a Real ID to travel domestically or to the U.S. territories.
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If you have a valid passport card, you can vacation in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean as long as you travel by land or sea. The card doesn’t cover international flights.