U.S. passport delays have eased — but aren’t yet back to normal

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Airfares have stabilized and fallen this season, says Clint Henderson

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Long delays in issuing a new U.S. passport have decreased compared to early 2023, but have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Starting Nov. 6, the U.S. State Department will process routine passport applications in seven to 10 weeks, the agency said. It processes expedited applications — which cost more — in three to five weeks.

Travelers who applied for a passport between March 24 and October 1 – the peak of the backlog – waited 10 to 13 weeks for routine passport processing and five to seven weeks for an expedited application.

Taking into account the additional time required for shipping, the State Department recommended that travelers submit the application at least six months before the planned trip or passport expiration.

“Passport processing times are definitely faster than before,” said Sally French, travel expert at NerdWallet. “[But] It’s still a very long time when you’re trying to snag a last-minute flight deal like those typically offered on “Travel Tuesday,” which falls on November 28th this year.

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Record demand for passports causes delays

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Delays in passport processing resulted from high demand for international travel as health fears and pandemic-era travel restrictions were eased.

The State Department issued more than 24 million passport books and cards between October 2022 and September 2023, a record number in a federal fiscal year.

The agency has tried to reduce the backlog by recruiting and hiring “aggressively” at all passport agencies and centers, having passport staff log “tens of thousands” of overtime hours per month and opening a field office to help process applications, it said.

“As more Americans travel internationally again, we are directing our resources to meet unprecedented demand in 2023,” the State Department said.

Although delays have improved, they have not yet returned to normal.

Before the pandemic, it took two to three weeks for expedited passports and six to eight weeks for routine passport processing, the State Department said.

“It always took quite a bit of time,” French said. “You’ve always had to plan well in advance to get that pass.”

The State Department expects to provide further updates on processing times later this year.

Demand for passports generally fluctuates throughout the year. According to the State Department, processing times are typically shorter during the slower season of October through December.

How much does a passport cost?

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A traditional passport – a passport book – costs $130. First-time applicants must pay an additional initiation fee of $35.

Travelers can pay more for faster service. Expedited passport processing costs an additional $60.

Travelers can enjoy expedited delivery of a new passport book by mail in one to two days for an additional cost of $19.53.

You can also send an application faster by purchasing the United States Postal Service’s Priority Mail Express service. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the price varies depending on the region of the country.

In certain circumstances, travelers may be able to expedite the process.

Life-threatening emergency services are available for people traveling abroad in the next three working days who are experiencing a qualifying emergency. The Express Travel service applies to travelers traveling abroad within 14 calendar days.

Why an unexpired passport can still cost you

US passports are generally valid for 10 years. They are valid for five years if issued before the age of 16.

In some cases, Americans may not be allowed to travel even if their passport has not yet expired. Some countries prohibit entry if the passport expires just a few months after the end date of a trip.

For example, the Schengen area, which includes 27 European countries, requires that a US passport be valid for at least 90 days beyond the scheduled departure date from the Schengen area.

Many countries in the Asia Pacific and Middle East require entry permits to be valid for at least six months. In other areas such as Hong Kong and Macau, the deadline is one month.

That’s one reason why it’s generally advisable to consider renewing a passport a year after its expiration date, French said.

You may also need to apply for a separate visa to enter certain countries, a process that requires additional time and planning. The State Department has information on passport and visa requirements for specific countries.

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