Finally. As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out and infection rates plateau or drop (we’re not here to talk about the Delta variant today), borders are opening and countries are starting to allow U.S. tourists in again. We spent over a year off of planes and trains, waiting… waiting… waiting for travel to become a thing again. Now we’re ready to dust off our favorite backpack, purchase some round-trip tickets, and uh oh – your passport expires this year.
My passport expires after my trip, that doesn’t matter, right?
Actually, it does. Depending on where you’re going, the destination country may require your passport to be valid for a specific amount of time after your departure date. Take for instance, the Schengen Area which requires a U.S. passport to be valid for 3-months after your ticket home. For a country like Mexico, it’s recommended that your passport be valid for at least 6-months to avoid the potential for not being allowed in, although their immigration officers may let you through with proof of a short stay and a return ticket (ie. vacation).
Okay, fine. How long does it take to renew?
According to the U.S. State Department website, the current timeframe for a routine renewal is 18-weeks from day of submission. This doesn’t include the time for the original passport to be delivered through the notoriously backed up U.S. Postal Service.
For an additional $60 (don’t forget to write “Expedite” on your envelope), you can get that quickened to a 12-week timeframe. This accounts for 6-weeks of processing and 6-weeks of mailing. One to two day shipping is also available for about $18. If you forget to do this or want to add it later, you can call a dedicated phone number and they’ll email you a form to send back with what services you want and your credit card information. Unfortunately, this could take 4-weeks to process.
Wow, that’s a long time, but it shouldn’t take that long (or worse).
There are currently (as of late-July 2021) over 2 million passport applications – both new and renewal – that are sitting in limbo waiting for processing. To make matters worse, due to COVID, the State Department has had severe staff shortages across the country, which are thankfully being addressed.
With the considerable backlog and slow staffing response, it could take every minute of those 12 and 18-week timeframes to get your passport back (if not longer).
Is Somebody Doing Something About This?
People around the country have been voicing their concerns and criticisms to their legislators about the delay that is keeping people from going on vacation, arranging business trips, or seeing loved ones. Bipartisan legislation was introduced to solve this problem. The hiccup? It gives the current administration 30-days to present a plan and another 30-days to implement it. Not much help for the people currently in the long queue asking themselves “will it, or won’t it.”
What Can I Do?
The simplest thing you can do is be patient and hopeful. The State Department website offers a tracking service that will tell you if your passport is still being processed or if it’s been approved.
If you still haven’t received your passport and you’re supposed to be traveling internationally within 72-business hours, you can try to schedule an in-person appointment, though these are severely limited and you have to play the dreaded “hold” game since appointments are offered only over the phone. To clarify, you can start calling for an appointment with 2-weeks to go until your trip, but the appointment has to be within 3-business days.
Your last option is to purchase travel insurance that will cover some of the money you may need to recoup. Unfortunately, most insurances won’t cover a missing passport as part of its base plan, so you’ll have to find a company that offers (and opt in) for a Cancel For Any Reason policy. This usually adds on about 40% to the cost of the base insurance plan and pays back anywhere between 50-75% of the trip cost (you have to purchase 2-3 weeks after your first trip purchase) but that’s better than losing everything!
In the past, I’ve used World Nomads for my travel insurance company; however, they don’t offer a Cancel For Any Reason policy, so I have since switched over to Trawick International – the same company that I had gone with for our failed Costa Rica trip due to their great COVID coverage. You must purchase the travel insurance no more than 21 days after your first trip deposit; anything older than that will not be covered. Other companies that offer the policy include AIG and Travel Safe, but feel free to check with your normal travel insurance provider.
Thanks for reading and safe travels!