A record number of passport applications has slowed the U.S. State Department’s passport processing and endangered international trips for many U.S. travelers this year.
Why it’s important: “If a passport is not valid, they might not be able to go on a trip. It’s very important,” said Christina O’Toole, a Pittsburgh-based travel advisor at Avenue Two Travel.
Behind the numbers: The surge in applications—400,000 a week in June—has the State Department on track to set records for the number of applications received and issued: at least 2 million more than it had in 2017, its previous high.
- In late March, the feds extended processing times to 10 to 13 weeks for routine service and seven to nine weeks for expedited submissions.
- The agency said it hopes to return to the pre-pandemic times of six to eight weeks and two to three weeks, respectively, by the end of 2023.
- As of late July, it has been issuing more than 97 percent of passports within stated processing times, if not sooner. But they advise travelers to apply at least six months before their trips, to be safe.
‘It was a headache’: Leigh Bukowski, a research manager at the University of Pittsburgh, applied for her 2-year-old son’s passport 11 weeks before their family planned to leave for Spain.
- As their departure neared, She paid extra to expedite the passport, then spent hours redialing passport offices, mostly waiting on hold. She even sought the help of her representative in the U.S. House.
- Eventually. she was able to get the passport days before the trip by driving more than 200 miles to Buffalo, N.Y., the nearest passport office that issues passports on the same day (with proof of an international flight).
- “It was a headache. The reward was a lovely trip,” Bukowski said. She advises others in a jam to call their Congressional representatives. “Many people don’t know they can help with this.”
Political action: The delays and close calls have gotten the attention of Congress. In recent weeks, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have all called for faster passport processing.
What to do: Travelers with imminent trips or a “life-or-death emergency” have a few additional options:
- If your departure falls within two weeks, call the National Passport Information Center to make an appointment at a passport center or agency.
- The facilities do not accept walk-ins, and appointments are limited. If the location closest to you is booked, you may need to drive a distance—or even get on a plane—to get to a passport agency. Click here to find locations.
European visas coming: Starting next year, European vacations will become somewhat more complicated as the European Union prepares new travel document requirements for American visitors.
- Citizens from some 60 countries who currently travel to Europe visa-free will have to apply for travel authorization and receive approval prior to their departure.
- Most applicants will be granted travel authorization within an hour. If further checks are required, the process could take up to 96 hours. The application costs 7 euro.
- Click here for more information.