How to Check Your Passport Status—and What to Do if It’s Taking Too Long

Passport wait times are still long, but you don’t have to wait in the dark. Here are a few things you can do to check your passport application or renewal status.

U.S. passport on top of open passport with stamps

You sent in your passport application. Now what?

Photo by Charles Taylor/Shutterstock

The clock is ticking. International flights and hotels are booked, but still no sign of your new passport? We know the frustration. Current delays can stretch as long as two to three months due to an application backlog. Even with expedited processing (and an additional $60 fee), the wait can extend to two months, and the timeframe doesn’t technically begin until the agency receives your application.

So what’s an eager traveler to do? It turns out, there are a few ways you can ease the stress by checking your passport status.

It’s wise to keep an eye on your passport expiration date since countries have different requirements. Many European nations stipulate at least three months’ validity beyond the period of intended stay; others have a six-month minimum. Some countries require at least one full, blank page, too. It’s confusing, but a little advance planning can help. Here’s how to monitor the application once you submit it.

Check your passport status online

The State Department’s online system updates your application status 14 days after receipt of your documents (until then, it will say “not found”). Don’t expect a detailed report, however, as the verbiage you’ll likely see includes: “in process,” “approved,” or “mailed.” Obsessive checking won’t get you very far, but luckily on the same website, you can enroll in an automatic alert system for updates when the status changes.

Verify the status by phone

You can phone the National Passport Information Center (877-487-2778) to speak to a real person (or an automated response outside of business hours), but it will still be the same ambiguous answers of “in process” or hopefully “mailed.”

Check the status by using a third party to apply

If you use an expeditor company like Rush My Passport or CIBT Visa, it can provide additional details on where your passport is in the process. These agencies use a courier who physically hands over the documentation, adding a bit more clarity to the process. Expeditors can get a passport back to you in a few business days (this varies by agency), but expect to pay upwards of $600 for the privilege.

If you have an emergency situation

If you applied but haven’t received your passport and your travel is coming up soon, you may be able to get help.

If your travel is within the next two weeks, call the National Passport Information Center (877-487-2778) during business hours (Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET, Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). The call center will notify the processing agency of your upcoming travel dates and put in a request to expedite it.

If your travel is within the next five days, call the same line to let them know—they may be able to give you an in-person appointment to finish up the passport process (although there are no guarantees, and you may have to travel to another city for the appointment).

If you have proof of a last-minute family emergency that requires travel within three business days (for example, a recent death or a severe illness that may lead to death of an immediate family member), call the same number to request a “life-or-death emergency service” appointment (different from the “urgent travel service” appointment). If you qualify and have proof of the urgency and upcoming travel, you may be able to secure one. If calling outside of traditional business hours or on a federal holiday, contact 202-647-4000. This number, reserved for emergencies only, should not be used during business hours. Your Congressperson can assist if you have a pressing emergency, too.

The moral of the story: Start early and allow plenty of time. While that’s not always possible, these tips can help you track your application status. Just be sure to pack some patience before you pack your suitcase.

Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.
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