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International travelers urged to check passport status as State Department experiences processing delays

Anyone making plans for international travel is urged to check their passport status as the first priority with the U.S. State Department reporting of delays in processing times due to surge applications.

The post-COVID surge in international travel has caused unprecedented processing delays that could impact travel this summer and possibly, through the end of the year. At this time, reported routine passport processing times are more than double what they were prior to the pandemic.

“International travel is coming back with a roar which has caused a bottleneck in passport processing,” says Debra Calvert, managing director of Travel Products and Partnerships for AAA Club Alliance. “Before booking that dream vacation, the very first question we ask our clients is the status of their passports. Overlooking an expired passport would be a costly mistake by anyone planning to travel.”

(Image from U.S. State Department)

Right now, the U.S. Department of State, which issues U.S. passports, is reporting routine processing times of more than three months — 10 to 13 weeks, as of March 24 — once the application has been received. This does not take in to account mailing times, which could add another month — an additional 2 weeks on the front and back end. Even expedited applications may take more than two months — 7 to 9 weeks.

Delays in passport processing are easily explained. According to booking data, international travel is up more than 200 percent compared to 2022. State Department data shows a record 22 million U.S. passports were issued in 2022 — up 42 percent from 2021 — and 2023 is on track to be another record-breaking year.

RushMyPassport, an online U.S. Passport courier service, says applications for expedited passport services have been on the rise since December, spiking in April to more than 1,225 applications which is more than four times higher than the busiest month last year. Given the backlog reported by the State Department, the upward trend is expected to continue.

Seven passport tips every international traveler needs to know:

1. Don’t miss out on international travel. U.S. citizens are required to carry a valid U.S. passport when flying, but they also must carry it when driving or even walking across the border to Canada or Mexico. If you don’t have one or your passport will expire before year’s end, AAA advises you to submit your passport application or renewal for summer travel ASAP.

2. Passports are issued by the U.S. Department of State. Prior to COVID-19, routine passport processing took 4-6 weeks. Now, pandemic-related application backlogs, coupled with a surge in travel demand, are leading to longer wait times, anywhere from 10 to 13 weeks. Even some expedited services are seeing delays of about 7 to 9 weeks. Mail time must also be factored in, as it may take up to two weeks for the U.S. Department of State to receive an application after it has been mailed and another two weeks of mail time on the return end.

3. Detailed instructions for passport application/renewal are available online. Anyone planning to travel this year should visit the U.S. State Department website to initiate the process as soon as possible.

4. Many countries have a 6-months passport rule. Just because a passport does not expire until after a planned vacation does not mean travelers have a useable document. Many countries have a ‘6 months passport rule,’ meaning that traveler passports must continue to be valid for at least 6 months after the trip. AAA is advising any traveler whose passport expires this year to begin the renewal process immediately.

5. Passport processing requires travelers to temporarily surrender their birth certificate (new applicants) or their current/expired passport (renewals). While those documents will be returned after the new passports have been issued, anyone who needs their birth certificate or uses their passport for identification unrelated to foreign travel should be sure to have a backup form of identification in the interim.

6. Travelers can pay for accelerated processing and peace of mind. Those who have booked travel in the next four months or anyone who wants to shorten wait times or reduce stress can pay for expedited shipping and passport processing.

7. Travelers can monitor their application status online. Whether travelers have applied in person or renewed by mail, they can check their passport status at passportstatus.state.gov.

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