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How to Renew Your Passport During the Coronavirus Backlog

by Billie Cohen | October 29, 2020

 

UPDATE: The State Department says it is currently taking about 10–12 weeks to process a passport, from application to delivery in the mail. Expedited service costs $60 and takes 4–6 weeks.

If you are one of the nearly 1 million Americans waiting for a passport now, you may feel frustrated. The U.S. State Department closed many of its offices on March 19 as part of the lockdown effort to protect workers. The good news is that as of mid-October, the department has partially reopened all of its offices, to varying degrees, and has started tackling the backlog that has been piling up. The bad news is that delays are still longer than usual.

The staff is processing applications on a first-submitted, first-served basis, meaning that if you sent your paperwork in March, you should get your passport before someone who submitted their paperwork today. But you’ll both have to wait a bit longer now (about 10–12 weeks) than in pre-Covid times (about eight weeks). Expedited service, which had been suspended for many months, is now available again; a fee of $60 will get you your passport in four to six weeks.

Here’s what you need to know now about getting or renewing a passport.

Can I apply for a passport or renewal now?

Yes. All applications and renewals were suspended for the first several months of the pandemic, but as of mid-October, every passport center is at least partially reopened.

Passport offices are coming back in three phases. You can check their status here.

  • Phase 1: limited staffing; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis; in-person appointments for life-and-death emergencies only; applicants are advised to wait to submit
  • Phase 2: additional staffing; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis; in-person appointments for life-and-death emergencies only
  • Phase 3: all staff return; limited appointments for those traveling within two weeks; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis

Applications can be dropped off at official passport agencies, as well as at most 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.

How long will it take?

The State Department is publicly saying they can get your passport processed in 10 to 12 weeks—around three months. In normal times, the turnaround was about eight weeks (and often much less).

The delay is because of the backlog. Case in point: In the week of September 10 through 16, they received 143,000 applications, issued 149,000, and still had a pile of 931,000 to get through. (For context, in 2019, the State Department processed 20 million passports, which is a little less than 400,000 per week.)

Can I pay to expedite it?

Yes, expedited service is now available again, after having been suspended since March.  It costs $60 and reduces wait time to four to six weeks.

Customers who need to travel within 72 hours because of a life-or-death emergency can make an in-person appointment. Life-or-death emergencies are defined by the State Department as “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours (3 business days).” A limited number of additional appointments are now being offered to people who urgently need to travel within the next three business days for something other than a life-or-death emergency.

No walk-ins are allowed, and all customers who have an appointment must wear a face mask.

Can I use a third-party expediting service?

Yes, the State Department is allowing expediting services (also called “courier services”) to submit passport renewals for expedited processing. But as Valentina Meehan, president of one such service Passport Plus, points out, processing time can still take four to six weeks. “Some applications can be done faster, but it’s not guaranteed for all applications,” she says.

In pre-Covid times, a benefit of using one of these companies was that they would physically wait at the passport office for you, no matter how long it took, and have your passport by the end of the day—a perk that’s moot for now, since passport offices are severely limiting in-person appointments.

But there are still 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.” (Fees range from $150 to $450 at Passport Plus, depending on turnaround time.)

If I submitted my renewal application a few months ago, can I bump my application up to expedited status now that it is available again?

Yes. Meehan suggests calling the National Passport Office at 1-877-487-2778 and asking to change your application to expedited processing (have your credit card handy because you’ll have to pay then). She says, “I know some people that have done that, and it only took days to switch and for their passports to be completed. Others took at least three to four more weeks to be processed. It’s really a shot in the dark these days.”

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.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Annie

    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?

  2. Natalie

    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?

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