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Consumers face growing delays for passport registrations

There are things you can do to expedite the process, but they cost extra

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Photo (c) MistikaS - Getty Images
Are you planning on going out of the country anytime soon? If you don’t have an updated passport, get ready to wait a while because there’s a serious backlog of applications at the passport office.

How long is the waiting period? The agency says applicants need to allow at least six months before any planned international travel. It says some of the backlog is a result of prioritizing customers with life-or-death emergencies

The first recommended steps

According to a passport application guide published by Scott’s Cheap Flights, anyone planning to fly out of the U.S. should first check their current passport if they have one. Passports are good for 10 years for those over the age of 16; they’re good for 5 years for those under 16. Scott Keyes, founder of the airfare deal service, says there’s more to check than the expiration date though. 

“Many countries require that your passport be valid for 3-6 months beyond your travel dates, and that you have at least one blank page (it varies by country, some require more),” Keyes told ConsumerAffairs.

“For example, if you roll up to the airport for a trip to any of the countries in Europe’s Schengen Area and your passport isn’t valid for at least three months beyond your trip, you’re gonna get some bad news.”

The Department of State Travel says appointments must be scheduled by phone: Call 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET, Mondays through Fridays. The agency’s appointment line is closed on weekends and federal holidays. 

What to expect after that

The U.S. Passport office says applicants should expect delays of up to 18 weeks (4 ½) months from the day an application is submitted to the day a new passport is received by the applicant. Mind you, it might not take that long, but the agency is playing it safe. 

It says the 18-week timeframe includes up to 12 weeks for processing and up to 6 weeks for mailing times on the front and back end. Regarding those mailing times, the agency says processing times begin the day it receives your application, not the day you mail it. If you’re in a hurry, an additional $60 will get you expedited service, but it won’t save you much time -- only about six weeks. 

“If that’s still not soon enough, there are two dozen passport agencies around the US where you can get an Urgent Travel or Life-or-Death Emergency appointment,” Keyes suggested. “To cast the widest net, visit the USPS passport site and look for available appointments within 100 miles of your zip code.” 

Here are some other suggestions the Passport office offers:

  • Send your application via trackable mail so you can track your application before it enters the office’s system. The agency said that can be done regardless of whether you apply at an acceptance facility or by mail.

  • Pay an extra $17.56 for 1-2 day delivery for the return of your completed passport.

  • Use the agency’s Self-Service Tools Online. This will allow you to get immediate answers to your questions, and you can check online for your passport status. However, consumers should note that customer service representatives do not give status updates over the phone. 

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