WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, July 22, 2021) –– A significant increase in the time it is taking the U.S. Department of State to process passports is forcing many travelers to postpone previously booked vacations. With that in mind, AAA is urging anyone planning or hoping to travel out of the United States this year or next year to initiate the passport process now or risk having those plans derailed by the delays.
“One in five global consumers plan to travel internationally in the next 12 months.” That’s according to the “International Travel & Tourism Report - 2021: The Road Back to Normality,” published by the Global market research group YouGov.
All U.S. citizens planning an international excursion, or planning to travel within the Western Hemisphere, must have a valid U.S. passport to do so.
“Approximately 18 percent of people across the globe, including ‘millennials and on-the-go travelers,’ are planning an international trip within the next 12 months,” said Victoria Stark, Retail Manager, AAA Fairfax Retail Center. “It is imperative for U.S. citizens planning to travel abroad to have their valid U.S. passports, and they must also ‘comply with the document requirements for the country’ they plan to visit or enter. At all points, and at all ports of call, be a savvy traveler. It is also an imperative for first-time passport applicants who plan to travel to a foreign country or overseas to commence passport processing immediately.”
“Here’s why. Our agents are seeing so many travelers, sometimes entire families, who have been forced to cancel or postpone their trips because passport processing has taken longer than anticipated,” adds Stark. “One of the first questions we are now asking our clients is about the passport status of all travelers.”
Getting a passport can be a tedious process these days. At this time, the State Department says processing of a passport application is taking more than four months (18 weeks). Plus, ‘expedited’ service may only shorten the wait to three months.
AAA travel advisors say passport processing times are three times as long as the average wait time prior to the pandemic. The dramatic delays are the result of COVID-related issues and high demand, the United States Department of State website indicates.
“Some travelers with bookings this summer have already had to postpone until next year,” Stark added. “For those who are uninsured for such a change in plans, the cancellation is much more than an inconvenience. It’s a costly miscalculation.”
The passport delay issue is not just affecting those applying for new passports or renewing passports set to expire. AAA is reminding travelers that many countries now require the passport expiration date to be at least six months after the date of return travel so anyone planning travel through 2022 is strongly urged to begin the passport renewal process now.
When it comes to what the State Department calls “Door-to-Door Times,” routine passport service can take “18 weeks (includes up to 12 weeks processing and 6 weeks mailing).” The timeline for expedited passport service can take “12 weeks (includes up to 6 weeks processing and 6 weeks mailing).” While AAA does not process passport applications, we can provide you with the resources to make the process easier.
Passport Tips for Travelers
- Check passport status of everyone with whom you plan to travel.
- Share passport status information with your travel advisor.
- Book travel that ensures your return date is at least six months before passport expiration.
- Initiate passport processing for:
- Visit your nearest AAA office for your passport photo, application and instructions. For more information, visit AAA Passport Services.
The United States Department of State also advises: “Our call center is experiencing extremely high call volumes with longer-than-usual wait times. You can check your status online using our Online Passport Status System.”
During 2020, there were 143,116,633 valid U.S. Passports in circulation. “Approximately 11,711,945 U.S. Passports and passport cards were issued” during Fiscal Year 2020. It was the lowest number since FY 2006, when 12,133,537 U.S. Passports were issued.
In contrast, “20,690,491 U.S. Passports were issued during FY 2019, and 21,103,475 U.S. Passports were issued in FY2018,” U.S. Department of State records show. FY 2017 was a banner year for passports, when the State Department issued 21,378,994 U.S. Passports and passport cards.
Even so, 181,283 Passports were issued in the District of Columbia during FY 2020, compared to 253,077 passports in FY 2019.
The State Department issued passport to 318,616 Virginia residents in FY 2020, compared to 518,517 residents of Virginia during FY 2019.
In terms of passport issuance by state or territory, 212,417 Maryland residents were issued passports by the U.S. State Department during FY 2020, compared to 377,847 denizens of Maryland in FY 2019.
U.S. citizens are required to carry a valid U.S. Passport when leaving or entering the country including trips to Canada and Mexico. The passport should be valid at least six months beyond the return date of your trip.
To assist travelers, at select local AAA retail offices and AAA Car Care, Insurance and Travel Centers (Car Care Centers) in the Washington metro area, the staff will handle any passport photo requests. AAA Travel can also assist you with your passport application, however, only the U.S. Department of State can actually issue a U.S. Passport.
“All U.S. citizens departing from or entering the United States from within the Western Hemisphere by air are required to present a valid U.S. passport or a NEXUS card (if utilizing a NEXUS kiosk when departing from a designated Canadian airport),” explains U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). “All U.S. citizens traveling internationally by air are required to present a valid U.S. passport to board a flight to the United States.”
Here is the upshot. The United States Department of State website advises: “It may take up to 6 weeks from the day you submit your application until your status is ‘In Process.’ During these 6 weeks, your application is delivered to a mail facility, your payment is processed, and your application is entered into our system. Even if your passport status update says, ‘Not Available,’ your application and supporting documents are safely on their way to us.”
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