If you have international travel on the books (or are even just thinking about going overseas) and need a new passport or renewal, it’s a good idea to apply sooner rather than later. Wait times for U.S. passports are presently eight to 11 weeks. That’s because, as of November 1, 2023, the U.S. government has already issued more than 24 million passports for the calendar year. In all of 2022 (the previous highest year since the agency started counting in 1996), that number was under than 22 million, so it’s safe to say the Department of State is busy with applications.
In some cases, you may need to take care of your passport application in person, so here’s what to know about when and how to get an appointment for a passport.
First, confirm that you need an in-person appointment
People renewing an existing passport (or changing information in it, like switching to a married name) don’t have to do anything in person—they can apply by mail. However, those who are applying for the first time will need to bring their documents to an acceptance facility, which requires an appointment. Similarly, those who are traveling in fewer than 14 days and haven’t received their new or renewed passport might need to visit a passport agency for emergency processing. Once that’s done, you can check the status of an application you’ve already submitted online or by phone.
Go to a passport acceptance facility
Travelers applying for passports for the first time can submit their applications at oodles of passport acceptance facilities, which include over 7,400 post offices, clerks of court, public libraries, and other local government offices across the country. Search for the nearest location to you on the Department of State website by entering your zip code.
While there are some spots (typically in smaller towns) where customers can get appointments on a walk-in basis, most places, including post offices, require an advance reservation. Unfortunately, slots at certain locations have been booked weeks out, thanks to staffing shortages and high levels of demand. If there aren’t good appointment times at the location nearest you, try searching for others in the area. Once you have your appointment, don’t forget to bring your passport application, a passport photo, and evidence of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).
Attend a passport acceptance fair
You might also consider attending a Passport Acceptance Fair. The Department of State started hosting these events in summer 2023 as a way to speed up applications, and they’re expected to run through the end of the year.
Call a passport agency for emergency applications
If your flight is within a few days and you haven’t yet applied for a passport (or haven’t received a passport you already applied for), your best option is to make an appointment at one of the 26 passport agencies in the U.S. Note that these passport agencies are different from the above-mentioned passport acceptance facilities; these are run by the Department of State and only offer appointments for emergency processing.
Each of the passport agencies offers two types of appointments: Life-or-Death Emergency Service and Urgent Travel Service. For the Life-or-Death Emergency Service, you’ll need a genuine emergency that requires you to travel abroad within the next three days. Per the Department of State, that includes having an immediate family member (defined as a parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, or grandparent) who has died, is dying, or has a life-threatening illness or injury. You’ll need to prove it with a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary, a letter from a hospital, or similar documentation (and that paperwork also needs to be in English or at least translated into English). The Urgent Travel Service, on the other hand, is for those who have already applied for a passport, haven’t received it, and are traveling within five days.
For either, you’ll need to call in to make an appointment (the number is 1-877-487-2778). Unfortunately, appointments are limited, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get one. And if you do get one, you’ll need to travel to that agency, which may not be convenient to where you live, as there aren’t that many and they tend to be in or near major cities (check the list in the FAQ and the map at the bottom of the DOS page). But if you’re lucky enough to be seen, the passport is typically processed on the same day.
Consider an expedited service option instead
If you need a passport or renewal quickly, but your situation doesn’t fall into one of the approved emergency categories, you still have options: You can do it yourself through the State Department’s expedited service or use a third-party company.
But no matter what the situation is, don’t sleep on it. Start the process as early as possible.