For several months now, it’s taken longer than usual to get an American passport. Like many problems, the pandemic is at least partly to blame.
When COVID-19-related travel restrictions were lifted, lots of people were ready to go — planning trips abroad and contacting their passport offices to get the right documents make them happen. Last March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a House Appropriations subcommittee budget hearing that the government was facing an “unprecedented demand” for passports. Meanwhile, many passport offices have been hindered by staff shortages.
Because they’ve been receiving 500,000 applications a week — 30% to 40% more applicants this year than last year — the current wait time for a routine passport, which is usually six to eight weeks, is now about 10 to 13 weeks. And while you used to be able to pay an extra $60 to get it done in two to three weeks, nowadays even an expedited passport takes seven to nine weeks. So what do you do if you need your passport sooner than that? That depends on just how quickly you need it.
Here are the options for getting a passport, depending on your time frame.
How to Get a Passport If You Are Traveling 4 Months or More from Now
You can go through the regular steps, and you should receive your passport on time.
For a first-time passport, you must go in person to a passport acceptance facility. You can find the one closest to you (and whether or not you need to make an appointment in advance) on the State Department’s passport facility page. Visit this State Department website to find out what documents you need and the fees you’ll have to pay. Make sure you read through all the instructions carefully, as you must have all documentation (no exceptions). After your in-person visit, you can track your application status online.
How to Get a Passport in a Few Days if You Have an Emergency-related Reason to Travel
Say you have a family emergency and absolutely need to travel abroad within three days. This can be done, but you’ll have to submit your application in person to one of the 26 regional passport agencies across the U.S. They can do same-day application processing with their life-or-death emergency service, but you need to give an urgent reason for traveling.
A qualified life-or-death emergency is a critical illness, injury or death in your family (parent, child, spouse, sibling or grandparent) that requires you to be abroad within three business days. You will need to show some proof of the emergency, such as a death certificate or a letter from a hospital or medical professional on behalf of your sick or injured loved one. Learn more about life-or-death emergency appointments here.
This appointment needs to be booked ahead of time (no walk-ins) by calling the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778. Make sure you bring the completed passport application, photo, fees (the usual $130, plus $60) and proof of travel (an e-ticket, travel itinerary or hotel reservation). You will also need your Social Security card or your appointment confirmation number. After you go through the application submission process, you will have to wait for your new passport. Depending on the agency and the number of other applicants, it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
How to Get a Passport Fast Without a Life-or-death Reason
You can also go to a regional passport agency for Urgent Travel Service. The process is similar to the one above (make an in-person appointment, have proper documentation, photo, fees, proof of travel, etc.), but there are two main differences: You don’t need to provide an excuse for Urgent Travel Service. And most passports are issued within eight business days, though the processing time can be up to two weeks.
How to Arrange for a Third-party Service to Get Your Passport Fast
Depending on how far you live from a regional passport agency, getting an expedited passport can be time-consuming and a hassle. (You have to schedule the appointment, get to the location, stand in a possibly very long line to submit your application, wait for it to get processed, return to pick it up and travel home again.) And if your nearest regional passport agency is fully booked, you might need to go to a different one in another state.
But there are third-party companies called passport expeditors (or passport courier services) that charge a fee to complete and submit your passport application for you. They can both submit applications and serve as couriers for all the documents on the way there and the issued passports on the way back.
While an expeditor won’t necessarily speed up the processing time, the service has connections within the passport agencies and are in close proximity to them. So, if you live a several hours drive from one of these regional agencies, a passport agency can probably get your passport faster than if you went to the regional passport agency on your own.
Expeditors charge anywhere from $150 for a two-week service to several hundred dollars for same-day service. And that’s on top of the government fees. Still, if not getting your passport in time means losing the money you’ve already spent on your international vacation, it might be worth it to secure this service. The U.S. Passport Service Guide recommends the expeditor service, Rush My Passport.