For the majority of U.S. travelers, it has probably been a while since you have opened your passport.
But, with an expected boom in travel revving up as COVID-19 infection numbers drop and vaccination numbers rise, it’s probably a good time to make sure that those travel plans you’ve been dreaming of can, eventually, become a reality.
Step one for that, whether it’s international travel, which requires a passport, or even domestic travel, which will require a passport or a REAL ID starting on Oct. 1, 2021, is making sure you have a valid, up-to-date passport.
For those unaware, or those wanting to stay up to date on the process, here’s everything you need to know about applying for or renewing a U.S. passport.
How long does it take to get a passport?
Right now, according to the State Department, getting a passport is regularly taking up to 12 weeks, though those who need it sooner can spend an additional $60 to expedite it in four to six weeks.
However, there are exceptions to those timelines.
People who have “a life-or-death emergency,” a category that includes an immediate family member passing away or getting seriously ill or injured abroad, can get a passport processed in 72-hours. Those applying under these circumstances should call the State Department first to find out where they can get an appointment. They will also be required to produce proof of the emergency and proof of international travel.
Those who have “urgent international travel plans within 72 hours” can also get it expedited, though only in-person and only if they can secure one of “an extremely limited number of appointments” that are available. Some agencies and centers can only assist customers with “life-or-death emergencies” and will not be able to process others, so getting a passport under these conditions should only be a last resort for travelers.
Once applicants complete and submit all their paperwork, they can track the status of their application here. Status updates are generally available 14 days after applications are mailed.
Starting in October when REAL ID laws go into effect, a passport will also be required for domestic travel should a traveler not have a REAL ID. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
Do I need an appointment?
The short answer? It depends on how fast you need the passport.
While passport facilities including post offices, clerks of court, and libraries, are open and receiving applications, a welcome change from earlier in the pandemic, local health conditions and protocols are still limiting appointments, which are generally reserved for those needing passports in a rush.
That makes applying by mail still the recommended method, as “it is a safe, contactless option for certain services,” the State Department said. The mail route, while preferred, is experiencing delays, so travelers should be patient.
“We are experiencing delays in receiving passport applications due to unprecedented mail volume and other COVID-19 impacts on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). If you plan to expedite your passport application due to upcoming travel plans, we recommend that you send your application using USPS’ Priority Mail Express,” the State Department says on its website.
For those applying by mail, the State Department recommends sending the application through USPS and making sure that the application is mailed “using a trackable delivery method.”
“Do not use UPS, FedEx, or DHL since the address you need to send your Form DS-82 and supporting documents is to a Post Office (PO) Box,” the State Department says.
What do I need to have?
All applicants applying by mail will need to fill out Form DS-82, available on the State Department’s website, which asks for some basic information including full name, date of birth, social security number, and more.
They will also need to send along their most recent U.S. passport, any name change documents, and a check for the application fees.
How much does it cost?
Those applying for normal processing time will have to pay $110 for a passport book, $30 for a passport card (which is valid for domestic travel, sea border crossings, and land crossings into Canada and Mexico, but not for international air travel), and $140 for a combination of both. Expedited service will cost an additional $60.
Those applying by mail can include the check payable to “U.S. Department of State” along with their application. The State Department asks that applicants print their full name and date of birth on the front of the check or money order and also asks that applicants “do not send cash.”
The State Dept. recommends using USPS for passport mailing. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
What else do I need to know?
A State Department spokesperson speaking to Travel Market Report this week said that even though infection numbers in the U.S. are trending down, and vaccination numbers are trending up, the Department “has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We are committed to proactively communicating travel advice to U.S. citizens amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the most up-to-date information about travel restrictions imposed by foreign governments.”
That includes reminding travelers that all air passengers aged two-years and older will still need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery before boarding their flight back into the United States.
“The Department continues to strongly recommend U.S. citizens reconsider travel abroad, and postpone their trips if possible,” the spokesperson said. “We also urge those contemplating travel abroad to review CDC’s country-specific recommendations and their overall guidance on international air travel. U.S. citizens currently abroad should closely monitor guidance from local public health and immigration authorities, as well as the CDC.”
“U.S. citizens who must travel overseas should review the entire Travel Advisory for their destination(s) on Travel.State.gov. The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented risks for travelers, and our destination-specific advisories take into account the latest data and public health and safety analysis on COVID-related risks. As conditions evolve, we will regularly update our advice to U.S. travelers,” the spokesperson added.