Photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Photo by Fotinia/Shutterstock
Passport applications can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months—but there are ways to speed up the process.
From an emergency trip to finally planning international travel again after months of staying closer to home (ahem, COVID), there are numerous situations that might require a quick passport turnaround.
Whether it’s last-minute travel plans or a big international trip that’s here before you know it, it’s not uncommon for travelers to have to expedite their U.S. passport applications. Rush services always cost a bit more but are sometimes necessary. The process (for both renewing and getting a new passport quickly) is fairly similar to the regular application process, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Unfortunately, wait times for regular and rushed passports became even less predictable throughout the course of the pandemic and that lack of certainty can be nerve-wracking for travelers.
Several other situations might require a new or renewed passport in a hurry. For example, some countries don’t permit entry if your passport has less than six months of validity. Others, like South Africa, require that you have at least two consecutive blank pages. It’s best to check the State Department’s website for each country’s visa and passport requirements or contact your airline or travel agency before you hit the road.
Here’s what you need to know to get a passport in your hands as quickly as possible.
During the pandemic, even expedited services experienced a slowdown. Thankfully, both regular and rushed passport processing times started declining toward the end of 2021.
If you apply for an expedited passport directly though the U.S. State Department, processing times were about 5 to 7 weeks, according to an October 29 update—but that doesn’t include mail delivery times.
“We are no longer using door-to-door timeframes to describe routine and expedited service,” the State Department reported. “Our processing times begin the day we receive your application at a passport agency or center, not the day you mail your application or apply for a passport at a local acceptance facility.”
The 5-to-7-week timeframe is down from the 12-to-18 weeks the agency had estimated for expedited passport service earlier in the pandemic. For a faster turnaround, an expeditor like RushMyPassport.com can take six to seven business days for confirmed travel within 2 weeks, but it only has a limited number of spots for that fast service. At press time, RushMyPassport.com’s average expedited passport service was 4 weeks.
There have been several changes to the passport application process over the course of the pandemic.
To start: In-person services at passport agencies were still fairly limited as of late 2021. The State Department has been prioritizing in-person appointments for travelers with life-or-death emergencies. A small number of in-person appointments is also available for those with urgent and imminent travel within three business days.
Instead, the State Department is encouraging travelers to apply via mail when possible. The window for expediting is 5 to 7 weeks, but as mentioned above that doesn’t necessarily include mail delivery times, which can vary widely across the country.
To apply for a rushed passport, begin at the State Department’s website, where a handy checklist will keep you from making a mistake that could slow down the procedure. The $60 expediting fee (plus overnight shipping) is not refundable, so make sure you have dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s when applying. This fee is in addition to the standard $110 application fee—so $170 total for the expedited passport service (not including shipping).
If you want the expedited service, you need to send your application using Priority Mail Express with the U.S. Postal Service. The State Department recommends that applicants send their application via trackable mail, so that applicants can know exactly when it arrives and enters the system. Travelers can also opt for one- to two-day return delivery of their passport for an extra $17.56, to help speed things along somewhat.
If you score an appointment to apply in person, you must use form DS-11. To apply by mail, you’ll need to use the form DS-82 (you can download these forms here). Submitted forms must be single-sided and printed clearly. Complete the application online before printing it out or by hand in black or blue ink; remember to write “expedited” on the envelope and include two recent photos that meet the passport photo specifications. If applying by mail, you must include a check; if applying in person, find out what methods of payment are allowed at your specific acceptance facility.
You can renew your passport by mail and can begin the process online as long as you are in possession of your expired or expiring passport; your passport was issued when you were age 16 or older; it was issued within the past 15 years; and it was issued to your current name or you have documentation to support a name change. Children under 16, all first-time applicants, and applicants who have lost their passport or had it stolen must apply in person.
You can make a free appointment ahead of time but spaces are extremely limited right now—passport agencies and acceptance facilities are not accepting walk-in services and require advance appointments. Acceptance facilities include post offices, clerks of court, libraries, and local government offices. If you want to apply at a post office, you need to make an appointment at USPS.com. Other acceptance facilities may be requiring advance appointments as well.
Passport agency appointments must be scheduled over the phone by calling 1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. The online system was temporarily disabled after an underground market developed; third parties using bots would secure urgent appointments and then sell them to travelers in a bind. Many of these are not even legitimate appointments.
You will need proof of travel if you pay for an expedited passport service and can secure one of the limited appointments available for within three business days of travel. Remember that if you are missing any documentation your application won’t be processed, which is why an expeditor can prove valuable.
Expediting agencies are companies that assist with rushed passport applications. They charge an additional fee (on top of the standard passport application fee and expedited passport service fee) but can often help navigate the ins and outs of the expedited passport process.
Services like RushMyPassport.com double-check your application before it gets submitted and catch any errors or snags that might slow it down. A 24-hour business day turnaround is currently not available, and no expeditor is able to offer such a service for now. The fastest turnaround time RushMyPassport.com offers is one week for $799 or a two-week option for $599. Even these are very limited in availability since expeditors also rely on a subset of appointments being available. RushMyPassport.com representatives say that things can change quickly and the company hopes to be able to offer faster processing times soon.
David Alwadish, CEO and founder of ItsEasy Passport & Visa, agrees. As of late summer 2021, his company was able to submit up to five passport applications a day with the option of a three-to-five-day expedited turnaround time. Those slots go quickly, but he says that as more passport agencies start to reopen, his company will be able to submit more per day. It costs $550 for an urgent expedited passport renewal or $595 for an urgent first-time passport applicant because the process is more complex. Do-it-yourselfers can also use his company’s ItsEasy Passport App to submit applications for standard passport processing.
If it’s a life-or-death emergency, such as an illness, injury, or a death in your immediate family, getting an emergency appointment at an agency in person is the only option. Instead of wasting a day with overnight shipping, you can save valuable time by going in-person—even if you have to fly to a passport agency in the departure city of your international flight. In these circumstances, it can take anywhere between 24 and 72 hours depending on where you apply and if you can provide accepted documentation, such as a death certificate or signed documentation from medical personnel.
The best thing you can do to avoid paying extra for expediting your passport is to set a calendar reminder for nine months before the expiration date of your current valid passport, for those who have one. At that point, you can look ahead at your travels and figure out the best 18-week period to apply—one where, ideally, you know you won’t be heading abroad. Let’s hope that staffing levels and processing capabilities continue to increase so we can say goodbye to lengthy delays and hello, once again, to overseas travel.
This article was originally published in 2019. It was updated on November 23, 2021, to include current information.
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