International travel is back, and getting easier every day. Many countries have done away with Covid testing requirements entirely, many others allow vaccinated travelers to enter without a test, and U.S. citizens no longer need to show a negative test to return home.
During the height of the pandemic, the U.S. State Department closed many of its offices as part of the lockdown effort to protect workers. The good news is that all of them are now open and wait times are back to what they were pre-Covid. Expedited service is back too (see below). However, there are some new rules and information applicants need to know.
Since many countries have a six-month rule—meaning that your passport must be valid for at least six months past the date of your return trip, do yourself a favor and check your passport’s expiration date right now. Whether you have a trip planned or not, renewals take time, so why not start the process today?
Here’s what you need to know now about getting or renewing a passport.
Can I apply for a passport or renewal now?
Yes. Applications and renewals are essentially back to normal. If you previous submitted an application, you can check the status here.
Applications can be dropped off at official passport agencies and at acceptance facilities, such as a post office or library (search for one near you). However, the State Department recommends mailing in applications because that is a safe, contactless option. Make sure you have all the required paperwork, documents, photos, and fees, whether you are applying for a renewal or a first-time passport. Note that adults with a 10-year passport can renew by mail.
The State Department is currently testing a pilot program that will allow U.S. citizens to renew their passports online and submit digital photos. The program is only offered to a limited audience right now, but it is expected to be widely available soon. Visit MyTravelGov for updates.
How long will it take?
The State Department says they can get your passport processed in 8 to 11 weeks from the day they receive it (not the day you mail it).
They recommend applying at least 4 to 6 months before any trip you have planned.
How much does it cost?
Prices for standard applications and renewals increased in December 2021. They are now:
Adults 16 and older
Children under 16
Can I pay to expedite it?
Yes, expedited service is available for $60 and reduces wait time to 5 to 7 weeks. You can also add rush shipping for an additional charge, and you should receive it in 1 or 2 days after it’s printed.
Can I apply for a passport or renewal in person?
There are only two types of in-person appointments available now at a passport agency or center, and there are strict qualifications for both.
The first type is called Life-or-Death Emergency Service, and it is for customers who need to travel within 72 hours because an “immediate family member is outside of the United States, and he or she has died, or is dying (hospice care), or has a life-threatening illness or injury.”
The second type of in-person appointment is called Urgent Travel Service for those who need to travel internationally within 14 calendar days. Documentation is required.
For both types, you can only make an appointment by phone (877-487-2778). There is no longer an option to book appointments online. The State Department website explains that third-party companies were using automated programs to book these appointments and then were reselling them at a premium; to avoid that scam, the State Department switched to phone bookings only—instructions can be found here.
No walk-ins are allowed, and you cannot transfer your appointment to another person.
Know that even if you live in a city with a passport agency or center, there may not be appointments available that suit your timeline. It is not uncommon for urgent travelers to have to go to an office in another state for an open appointment. If traveling to another agency is not possible, another option is to look into a third-party expediting service (see below).
Can I use a third-party expediting service?
Yes, the State Department allows expediting services (called “courier services”) to submit passport applications and renewals for expedited processing. Essentially, they get the equivalent of an Emergency or Urgent Travel appointment and drop your application off directly at a passport center or agency.
The service can save you a lot of time, but it comes with a high price tag. For example, Valentina Meehan, president of one such service, Passport Plus, based in New York, says her company can get new passports in 4–8 business days ($950 + shipping, on top of State Department fees). For renewals, Passport Plus customers have an option of 4–6 business days ($750 + shipping, on top of State Department fees), 7–10 business days ($450 + shipping, on top of State Department fees), or 15–20 business days ($250 + shipping, on top of State Department fees)
But no matter which service you need or which company you choose, there’s an important caveat: The Passport Services agency limits the number of daily applications couriers can submit (and that goes for all offices across the country). So, think as far ahead as you can because you’ll likely have to make a reservation with an expediting service, and they may not have a lot of slots.
In addition to cutting down the turnaround time for the whole process, expediting services come with some additional advantages that may prevent hassle and delays. “We will check and correct your paperwork for any mistakes, which can save valuable time and stress when processing,” Meehan explains. “For example, submitting a photo that does not follow the requirements of the State Department, signing the applications with a different signature that does not match your current passport, etc.—these can slow down the processing by at least one to two weeks, if not more.”
How do I check the status of my application or renewal?
Check the State Department website for the latest information on passport applications, offices, and services. You can check the status of your application online or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.
Will my Global Entry membership still work once I have a new passport?
Your Global Entry expiration date is not tied to your passport, but you will need to update your account with your new passport number, which changes with each renewal; you can do this by clicking “Update Documents” when logged into the Trusted Traveler Program website. (A new passport number can also affect your TSA PreCheck status if you’re flying on a foreign airline that tries to locate your membership via your passport number.)
How can I renew my Global Entry if it’s expired?
There is a relatively new option for Global Entry called “Enrollment on Arrival,” which means that you don’t have to wait for an appointment to open up at a nearby airport. Instead, you apply for a new Global Entry membership (unfortunately, since your membership has already expired, you can’t apply for a renewal), and after you receive conditional approval, you can do the interview for full approval when passing through customs and immigration the next time you re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad.
The Global Entry application allows you to input the dates of your next trip outside the country, and that may possibly prioritize your application. Since Customs and Border Control already has your photo and fingerprints on file from your previous Global Entry membership, you may also be eligible for a virtual interview—and those are easier to schedule than the in-person interviews.
Here is the page where you can apply for a new Global Entry membership.
This article was originally published August 2020 and has been updated several times since then. The latest update was September 7, 2022.
Traveling to Portugal with my 17 year old son. His passport will be valid but expires 10 days after our return. Does he have a grace period because of covid since they usually want 6 months?
Your son’s passport must be valid for 3 months after the end of your trip to Portugal; there is no grace period due to Covid. Wendy’s son just used the State Department’s expedited service to renew his passport, and it took 5 weeks. You can read about your options here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/passport-covid-19.html
What if my passport expires during the passport renewal process? (ex. About to submit application but mine expires in March). should I apply for a new one or a renewal?
Good question. You can renew a passport by mail within five years of the expiration date. So your application should be a renewal. See more info from the Passport Service here: https://www.us-passport-service-guide.com/renew_passport.html