Why Getting or Renewing a Passport in 2021 Is Taking Several Extra Months (Yes, Months)

The COVID-19 pandemic is to blame, but there are a few ways to speed up the process

Two people holding out two passports outside. It's taking up to five months to get or renew a passport.
Your wait to get a new passport (or renew one) is up to five months.
Spencer Davis / Unsplash

Maybe you’re ready to travel internationally again (even if other countries aren’t so willing to let you in).

If you’re applying for or renewing a passport, however, your travel plans may have to wait for, well, 2022. Because five months is how long it’s currently taking to process them, according to research by Scott’s Cheap Flights.

As that travel site’s founder and chief flight expert Scott Keyes notes, “routine” processing used to take 6-8 weeks but is now estimated at 18 weeks, which includes 12 weeks for processing and, for some reason, an additional six weeks for mailing. “Expedited” service, which costs an additional $60, knocks that down to a still unimpressive 12 weeks.

Yes, this is due to covid-19. Many passport application acceptance facilities are still closed, so you’ll have to go in person (which is required for first-time passports, renewals for kids under 16 or for replacing a lost/stolen passport). And appointments are currently prioritized for those with emergency needs.

“We always see an upsurge during the summer travel season,” as a spokesperson for the Department of State Travel told Lonely Planet. “While this year isn’t as large as previous seasons because of the pandemic, we are still under COVID-19-related staffing restrictions. We urge people not to wait to apply for a passport and apply at least six months ahead of planned travel when possible.”

Are there any hacks to get around this? A few. According to Keyes, you can ship your passport by overnight mail and pay $17.56 for 1-2 day delivery for the return. And you can call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 and request expedited service for an additional $60. As well, there are two dozen passport agencies around the U.S. where you can get an Urgent Travel or Life-or-Death Emergency appointment. Urgent Travel appointments can only be made online within 72 hours of departure (with proof of travel), while Life-or-Death Emergency appointments can only be made over the phone for circumstances involving an immediate family member’s death, imminent death or life-threatening illness/injury.

One important note: Do not pay any non-government third-party that promises to expedite your application. They charge additional fees but the State Department says it won’t be processed any faster.

Two other reminders for world travelers, as you’ve probably had your passport tucked away for over a year. Many countries require that your passport is valid for 3-6 months beyond your travel dates and that you have at least one blank page in the passport, if not more.


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