As the first restriction-free summer travel season sinceapproaches, an unprecedented number of Americans are applying for new passports, causing longer-than-usual wait times.
Many people who put travel on pause during the pandemic are now realizing that their passport has expired. The State Department isand is on track to break the record it set last year, when it issued 22 million of the documents, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently.
The surging demand means there's no time to waste to get a new passport.
"Don't wait — get your application in immediately," said Scott Keyes, founder of Going, a flight deals website. "Do your future self a favor by getting this requirement out of the way."
He added: "This is not a negotiable topic. If you don't have your passport in time for an international fight, you're not going to be able to get on that flight."
Here are five things to know about getting a new passport.
How long does it take?
If you apply now, the standard turnaround time for a new passport is 10-13 weeks, according to the State Department. Expedited processing, which takes seven to nine weeks, is available for $60. But note that these estimates cover the processing time only, not how long it might take to mail in, or receive a new passport.
Keyes said he applied for a new passport for his daughter in early February, which he received on March 23.
"At the time they were quoting six to nine weeks, so it was right in the time frame they gave us," he said.
Still, there are no guarantees. "Sometimes folks get it a little earlier, but I would not count on that."
Urgent and emergency travel
However, if your flight takes off in less than nine weeks, don't fret. The State Department offers a rush service for "urgent" travel. Americans with plans to go abroad within two weeks can call to make an appointment at a passport agency for rushed processing. Applicants for this service must provide proof of travel, such as a plane ticket.
It's wise to plan ahead, as visiting a passport agency or center could require some travel. Only a handful of major cities across the U.S. have official passport offices.
Passport agencies also offer "emergency" appointments for individuals in life-or-death situations who don't have valid passports and must travel within 72 hours. To get a passport under this scenario, a person must provide documentation of the life-threatening emergency plus proof of travel.
Private companies, known as "passport expeditors," also market rapid passport renewal services to consumers for fees that start around $100. They submit passport applications on behalf of customers, but are not part of the State Department.
While these companies can do the legwork for you, they can't secure a new passport on your behalf any faster than you can.
Be mindful of expiration dates
If your passport expires later this year, it's wise to renew early. Many countries require that an American visitor's passport be valid for at least six months after the date of travel to that country.
In other words, even if your passport expires in six months' time, another country might deem it invalid and not let you in.
Keyes advises travelers to "look at the expiration date and subtract six months. So if it expires on Christmas 2023, you need to act like it expires on June 25 because many countries will not let you in if there is less than six months remaining," he said. "The thinking is that you might stay for a while and your passport won't be valid for your return flight to the U.S."
Lastly, always make sure the name on your passport exactly matches what is on your airline ticket, Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel site Hopper warns.
"No Tom/Thomas mismatches or you may not be allowed to board," she said.
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