Washington—Attention world travelers: Check your passports, now.
The State Department is taking longer than usual to issue new U.S. passports, and to renew existing passports, because record numbers of Americans are going overseas.
“Americans are traveling again after COVID,” Andres Rodriguez, lead community relations officer for passport services at the State Department, said in an interview.
In just the recent winter months, the department was sometimes processing as many as 500,000 passports a week, including new requests and renewals. That number is unprecedented, Rodriguez said. “It’s been the busiest year ever for passport issuances,” he added.
As wonderful as renewed wanderlust may feel for U.S. citizens, the wave of new applications has strained the thousands of State Department employees who must process them.
Under the current crush, the department is warning citizens that the issuing of passports will take eight to 11 weeks for processing. Expedited passports, which cost an additional $60, will take five to seven weeks. That can be a long time for people eager to board that flight to France or the cruise ship to the Greek isles.
Wait times may only grow as the number of applications balloons, Rodriguez said.
So, U.S. officials say, plan your trips early, and start finding and inspecting your passports, or beginning the process for a first-time blue book, now.
Passports for adult U.S. citizens are valid for 10 years, but passports for children under 16 expire after just five. Often parents forget to check the different expiration dates on their children’s documents. And some countries, including popular European destinations, won’t accept passports that have fewer than six months of validity remaining.
For questions about the process, or to check on an application, citizens can visit travel.state.gov.
Normally applications begin to grow ahead of spring break and continue through summer, cooling down in the fall. But the surge began much earlier this year. Officials don’t expect the volume to ebb significantly.
To confront the flood of passport applications, the State Department says it is “aggressively recruiting and hiring” personnel for 26 passport agencies around the country, for a satellite center in Washington and for telephone help lines.
In California, the agency operates regional centers in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. These can sometimes provide passports more quickly in cases of proven emergency travel and by appointment only. But officials warn that appointment slots will fill up quickly as the volume of passport requests grows.
Last year, the U.S. government issued 22 million passports, a record and a jump of about 85 percent over 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
“All signs are pointing to having another record this year,” Rodriguez said.