Passport Renewals in the Age of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every area of life. From travel restrictions to shipping delays to furniture shortages, the list of complications keeps growing. Now, flight and hotel prices are skyrocketing along with passport renewal wait times.
TIP: If you've already applied for a passport or renewal and would like to check your application status and estimated passport arrival time, visit PassportStatus.state.gov and enter the requested information.
So, what's the scoop on the passport renewal process? Jennifer, the travel blogger behind Red Lips and Passports and a State Department insider, helps us tackle this discussion with some tips for navigating the long wait times when renewing your passport this year.
Picture it. It was 2020, quarantine was in full swing, and video chatting platforms are now the new meetup spot! Each time you and your friends get together for yet another Zoom happy hour, you begin making plans for the epic girls trips you’ll take once the world opens back up. Even the friend that has never left their hometown is now vowing to get a passport. Trips to the Maldives, Bonaire, and Ghana are all on the bucket list and everyone is ready. The 2021 travel year is gonna be lit! Or so you thought…
Fast forward to 2021 and you and your friends are buying plane tickets and booking hotels and prepping for your bomb ass vacay. Everyone has their passports, and you realize…you can’t find yours and need to apply for a new one ASAP. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? I mean, you can just get an in-person appointment at the passport agency, right? WRONG!
Due to the recent influx of passport requests and the impact the global pandemic has had on the U.S. passport agency, it is now harder than ever to obtain a U.S. passport. What once took six to eight weeks to obtain, is now taking 18 weeks or more. In-person appointments are hard to schedule, most passport agencies don’t take walk-ins anymore, and the days of paying someone to go to the passport agency on your behalf are long gone. The reality of having to miss out on globetrotting this year is starting to set in…but maybe not.
If you’re one of the millions of people that are stuck in limbo waiting to hear back about your passport, I have some advice for you!
If you haven’t applied for your passport and you plan to, list the expected date of travel as the day before your actual trip. Many people that have applied for their passport months before their trip have received their passport two days prior to their actual travel date. I made the mistake of listing my travel date as July 14th when I was really leaving on the 13th. I received my passport four hours after my flight had taken off. Had I listed the 13th as my travel date, I would have received my passport sooner.
Contact your Senator or Congress Member
Each member of Congress and Senator has a Constituent Services section on their website. Under the “Help with Federal Agencies” section, you’ll be able to request assistance with your passport. Most offices respond to their constituents rather quickly. They will contact the Department of State on your behalf to get your passport pushed through faster. Be sure to have your proof of upcoming travel available just in case they ask. Note: If you are renewing a passport, contact your representative prior to mailing anything off. They may be able to assist you with getting an in-person appointment for a renewal.
Stay in the Know
Things are rapidly changing with what can and cannot be done when it comes to obtaining a passport. For instance, at one point, you could go to Vermont for a no appointment walk-in. That ended in July. Travel.state.gov will give you the latest information on passport processing times. You should also check various news outlets for the latest updates.
Research Domestic Destinations
If you’re itching to go to paradise and you are certain you won’t be able to get a passport in time, check out some of the tropical destinations in the U.S. that will give you the vibe you are looking for. There are quite a few gems that don’t require a passport but will make you feel like you are in another country. Check them out here.
I know the dilemma at the passport office isn’t ideal, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. In July, the Passport Backlog Elimination Act was introduced. The bill focuses on the issues with staffing at the State Department that caused the backlog and would give the agency 30 days to submit a plan to mitigate the current issues.
If you have no plans to travel soon, be proactive and apply for your passport now. That way, when the time comes for you to globe trot, there won’t be anything holding you back. If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready!