Right now, many U.S. travelers have the same worry on their minds: Why are passports taking so long? If you’re hoping to renew a U.S. passport in time for an international trip this summer, or receive your first-ever document, you’ll likely have a bureaucratic headache ahead of you, as wait times for passports are once again on the rise.
The State Department is facing “unprecedented demand” for passports, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a Congressional budget hearing on March 23. As such, routine processing will take 10 to 13 weeks, while expedited processing—available for an extra $60 fee—is taking seven to nine weeks. And those estimates don’t include the time it takes to mail your passport to and from the processing center.
Officials say that it’s normal for passport demand to see upticks during certain times of the year, like in the lead-up to the peak summer travel season. However, this year’s demand is record-shattering, and it’s currently 30 to 40 percent higher than 2022’s surge in applications. Last year, the department issued its highest-ever number of passports—a whopping 22 million—and Blinken said the record is on-track to be broken.
“We’ve had an unprecedented demand for renewed travel, which is a good thing,” Blinken said in the hearing. “Historically the demand’s been cyclical. The busy season is March to late summer. Basically it’s full time now. We’re getting 500,000 applications a week for passports.” The department is hiring more customer service agents to help address the new and growing backlog of applications, Blinken added.
So what should travelers do if they need a passport fast? For dire situations—like an international flight that departs within two weeks or emergency travel for a life-or-death reason—you can try to snag an in-person appointment at one of the 26 Regional Passport Agencies. If your situation fits within the stipulations, which also includes needing to obtain a foreign visa within four weeks, you can call for an appointment at your nearest agency. You’ll need to provide evidence that you have flights booked and proof of a qualified emergency, if applicable.
From one-week turnarounds to renewals in as little as one day. Of course, aside from using the expedited service from the government, there are other strategies to getting a passport fast. But they’ll cost you. Third-party expediter companies, like GenVisa or RushMyPassport, offer services like handling appointment requests at the passport agencies or passport renewal turnarounds as quick as one week. But these services can cost anywhere from $150 to $799 and above—on top of the government’s fees and postage costs.
If you have an international flight booked that departs within 48 hours, you can try to get a same-day appointment at one of the agencies for the fastest passport processing. But, as the appointments at the regional agencies need to be in person, they might not be a convenient option for those who don’t live nearby one of the locations. (Depending on your situation, it might be worth flying to one of the agencies with an open timeslot—a feat that is hardly unheard of these days.)
In the future, officials want to simplify the process by offering online renewal options on a large scale. “This is something I have great hope for,” Blinken said of online processing. The State Department ran a pilot project last year to test how online submission would work. “We have 500,000 renewal requests submitted through this pilot project,” Blinken said. “We’ve now halted it to make sure we can fine tune it and improve it before we roll it out in a bigger way. But here’s the bottom line: We expect that 65 percent of renewal customers for passports will be able to do so online once this program is fully up and running.”