Whether you're ready to fly across the Atlantic or just one of America's adjacent borders, a passport is your key to escape. If you haven't glanced at the expiration date lately, go dust off your passport and take a look. If you find yourself needing a new passport, various renewal options are available depending on your situation.
IS RENEWAL REQUIRED?
First, it's essential to know if renewal is required. Just because the passport isn't going to expire during your planned trip doesn't mean it's useable. Most countries require your passport to be valid for six months past your scheduled estimated return home.
Review the information on the government website, or U.S. Embassy website, of the country you plan to visit. Alternatively, review the Quick Facts posted on the U.S. Department of State website to find out the specific expiration policy that pertains to your trip.
AVERAGE PASSPORT PROCESSING TIMES
The average processing time for a mailed passport application, or an application made at an Acceptance Facility (e.g., certain post offices or courthouses), is 18 weeks. Expedited service by mail is available for a $60 fee and should speed up the process to four- to six-weeks. This does not account for "delays in receiving passport applications due to unprecedented mail volume" or delays caused by limited staffing at passport processing offices owing to social distancing requirements.
SPEED UP THE PROCESS
Read and re-read the instructions and list of required documents, then follow the instructions precisely to avoid delays or requests for more information. Send your application by USPS Priority Mail Express to expedite the delivery service and receive a tracking number you can use to verify delivery. You can also pay an extra $17.56 for your new passport to be mailed back to you using expedited shipping.
IN-PERSON PASSPORT RENEWAL OPTIONS
Faster renewal options will only be available to you if you are traveling in fewer than four weeks. If your departure date is farther out, paying the $60 fee for four- to six-week service is the fastest possible option.
If you are traveling sooner, you can apply in person at a Passport Agency. Because of Covid-19, appointments are more limited than usual. Still, you can attempt to book an appointment within three days of travel. The reason for your trip must be owing to a family member's death or illness or another "urgent" reason, and proof of travel may be required. Only 27 offices in the country are offering such appointments.
COURIER AND EXPEDITOR COMPANIES OFFER FAST SOLUTIONS
Companies like RushMyPassport.com are not affiliated with the U.S. government. However, they may be helpful if you don't live near one of the 27 Passport Agencies and need your passport fast. As the name suggests, these services will act as a courier and hand-deliver your application to a Passport Agency. There are extra costs in addition to the same fees charged by the U.S. government. Services like RushMyPassport allow for real-time tracking and application review to minimize mistakes that could slow the process for new or renewed passports.
The U.S. Department of State advises that "you will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person" yourself at a Passport Agency, but for many, it’s difficult to apply in-person due to limited hours and locations making services like RushMyPassport a lucrative option.
WHERE IS MY PASSPORT?
Once your application has been received, it is possible to check on the processing status. You can "call the National Passport Information Center...at 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 (TDD/TTY)" weekdays from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern Time. You can also check your status online. Services like RushMyPassport also offer their own tracking services.