The bureaucratic burden of enduring months-long passport processing times may soon be lifted for US travelers, marking a welcome change after a three-year ordeal. As of November 6, the State Department has substantially reduced passport processing times, estimating regular applications to be processed within 7 to 10 weeks and expedited service within 3 to 5 weeks. This stands in stark contrast to earlier this year when wait times, excluding mailing time, stretched to a daunting 13 weeks due to an influx of applications during the peak spring and summer travel seasons.
Despite the delays, the State Department reports a remarkable achievement, processing a record-breaking 24 million passport books and cards between October 2022 and September 2023. This surge, declared “the most ever in our nation’s history” on the department’s website, signals a significant effort to address the passport backlog. Officials express the intention to return to pre-pandemic processing times by the end of 2023, reflecting a time when routine passport processing took a mere 6 to 8 weeks and expedited applications were swiftly processed in 2 to 3 weeks.
To expedite the reduction of processing times, the State Department has mobilized additional resources for its passport teams. A department release states, “We’re addressing the increased workload through a number of efforts, aggressively recruiting and hiring across our passport agencies and centers. Our passport team members contribute tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month, and we have opened a satellite office to help process the large number of applications we are receiving.”
It’s crucial to note that the processing periods provided by the State Department exclude mailing time. These time frames commence when documents reach a passport center. For a more accurate estimate, officials recommend adding up to two weeks on both ends to account for mailing time. For those seeking expedited delivery, an additional $19.53 can secure one- to two-day delivery of the new passport.
While the alleviation of processing times is a positive development, it comes with associated costs. A regular first-time application entails a fee of $165, a regular renewal costs $130, and expedited processing incurs an additional $60. For urgent situations, there are courier services available, albeit at a steep cost, often several hundred dollars on top of the State Department’s charges.
In special circumstances, the State Department offers urgent processing for travelers with international trips in less than 14 days and emergency processing for those with a verifiable life-or-death reason, such as a seriously ill family member, requiring travel outside of the US within three business days. Both options involve contacting the nearest passport agency for an in-person appointment. Securing these appointments can be competitive and demanding, necessitating persistence such as frequent calls and potentially traveling to the first available agency location.
Despite the recent improvements, it remains advisable to avoid procrastination when renewing a passport. Earlier this fall, the State Department recommended submitting passport applications at least six to nine months before an international trip. While wait times have shortened, allowing a six-month window for the entire process is still a prudent approach.