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Long delays to get a new U.S. passport have eased from earlier in 2023 but haven’t yet returned to their pre-pandemic baseline.
As of Nov. 6, the U.S. State Department is processing routine passport applications in seven to 10 weeks, the agency said. It’s processing expedited applications — which cost more — in three to five weeks.
Travelers who applied for a passport between March 24 and Oct. 1 — the peak of the backlog — waited 10 to 13 weeks for routine passport processing, and five to seven weeks for an expedited application.
After factoring in additional mailing time, the State Department had been recommending travelers apply at least six months ahead of planned travel or passport expiration.
“Passport processing times are definitely shorter than they were,” said Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet. “[But] it’s still a really long period of time if you’re trying to jump on some sort of last-minute airfare deal” like ones typically offered on “Travel Tuesday,” which falls on Nov. 28 this year.
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Passport processing delays resulted from high demand for international travel as pandemic-era health fears and travel restrictions loosened.
The State Department issued more than 24 million passport books and cards between October 2022 and September 2023, a record number during a federal fiscal year.
The agency has tried to cut the backlog by “aggressively” recruiting and hiring across passport agencies and centers, having passport staff log “tens of thousands” of overtime hours a month, and opening a satellite office to help process applications, it said.
“As more Americans are traveling internationally again, we are directing resources to meet the unprecedented demand seen so far in 2023,” the State Department said.
Though delays have improved, they’re not yet back 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’s always been a fair amount of time,” French said. “You’ve always needed to plan well in advance to get that passport.”
The State Department anticipates additional updates to processing times later this year.
Passport demand generally fluctuates throughout the year. Processing times are typically faster during the slower season from October through December, according to the State Department.
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A traditional passport — a passport book — costs $130. First-time applicants must pay an additional $35 acceptance fee.
Travelers can pay more for faster service. Expedited passport processing costs an extra $60.
Travelers can buy expedited delivery of a new passport book by mail — for delivery in one to two days — for an extra $19.53.
They can also send an application more quickly by purchasing Priority Mail Express service from the United States Postal Service. The price varies depending on the area of the country, according to the State Department.
In some circumstances, travelers may be able to speed up the process further.
Life-or-Death Emergency Service is available for people traveling abroad in the next three business days and who have a qualified emergency. Urgent Travel Service is for those traveling abroad within 14 calendar days.
U.S. passports are generally valid for 10 years. They’re valid for five years if issued before age 16.
In some cases, Americans may not be allowed to travel even if their passport hasn’t yet expired. Some countries disallow entry if a passport’s expiration falls just a few months after a trip’s end date.
Many countries in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions require at least six months of validity for permission to enter. Other areas, such as Hong Kong and Macao, require one month.
This is among the reasons why it’s generally wise to consider renewing a passport a year out from its expiration date, French said.
You may also need to apply for a separate visa to enter certain nations, a process that requires additional time and planning. The State Department has information about passport and visa requirements for specific countries.
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Source : CNBC