Getting a new or renewed passport has been a struggle for Americans in the past year, with ever-growing processing times leaving would-be travelers uncertain and stressed—and sometimes scurrying to find an alternative before their planned international trip.
After more than a year of processing times creeping up from the typical 6 to 8 weeks to 10 to 13 weeks, the State Department announced yesterday that wait times are finally starting to come back down.
Those who submitted a passport application on or after October 2 can now expect to get their fresh passport in the mail in 8 to 11 weeks for routine service. Expedited passport wait times have also decreased from 6 to 9 weeks to 5 to 7 (still up from the prepandemic estimate of 3 to 5 weeks).
“Our dedicated staff have worked countless hours to reduce passport processing times,” the State Department said in a press release. “We are continuously reassessing our operations to maximize efficiencies and are introducing innovations to our customer service and processing models. We are investing in supporting and modernizing our technology, increased staffing levels by 10 percent, and have hundreds of additional staff in the hiring pipeline. We remain focused on lowering processing times, and this reduction is an important first step.”
The overall slower pace of processing times has to do with lingering staffing shortages, a pandemic pause of online processing, and high demand for travel, which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “unprecedented” during a House Appropriations subcommittee budget hearing in March.
Between October 2022 and September 2023 (the federal fiscal year), the State Department said it issued more than 24 million passport books and cards—the most the agency has ever distributed in a single year. The prior year saw just shy of 22 million, the previous record high since the tallying started in 1974.
It’s worth noting that mailing times are not included in processing times, so it’s wise to factor in a few days on either end for shipping. And even with the faster turnaround times, the State Department says, “We encourage anyone considering future international travel to check their passport’s validity early and often. Apply well in advance of your potential travel and at least 6-9 months ahead of your passport’s expiration date.”