With the arrival of summer travel season comes the near-certain reality that someone, somewhere, will have their summer travel plans complicated by an expired passport.
But making that particular travel-planning hiccup even more complicated this summer may be longer lines at post offices and other passport-issuing agencies and longer waits to receive finished passports as the government deals with a continuing glut of renewals and first-time applications.
Chalk it up, at least in part, to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect in 2007 and requires that Americans traveling to and from Canada, Mexico or Bermuda present a valid U.S passport or other approved document to enter the United States. The initiative sparked a surge in passport issuances, and the U.S. State Department reported that it issued more than 18 million passports in 2007.
Passports expire after 10 years for adults and five years for children. That means that first wave of post-initiative adult passports is expiring, and that may cause longer-than-usual lines as well as delays in receiving passports. According to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, processing for routine passport applications is now taking six to eight weeks, although applicants who pay an extra $60 for expedited service should see their passports arrive in two to three weeks.
Another potential travel complication: Many countries require that visitors have at least six months’ time remaining on their passports. So passport holders who have waited until now to renew a passport may find their summer travel plans disrupted.
Granted, none of this has been a secret. In fact, the Bureau of Consular Affairs kicked off a campaign in early 2016 to urge travelers to apply and renew early, long before their passports expired.
Savvy travelers have taken the advice to heart. Maria Lilibeth Ruiz, director of marketing for Prestige Travel and Cruises American Express, says travel counselors there haven’t seen a flood of summer travelers facing passport-related issues.
But there are options. For example, travelers who need only to renew an existing passport may do so by mail. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, mail-in renewals are permitted as long as the most recent passport is submitted with the application, is undamaged, was issued when the holder was 16 or older, was issued within the past 15 years, and was issued in the applicant’s current name. A new photo also must be submitted.
However, first-time applications or applications for children younger than 16 must be submitted in person at a passport acceptance agency. These include many post offices, government and public agencies, although sites may place a daily limit on applications and may require appointments. (For information, visit www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/where-to-apply.html)
The Bureau of Consular Affairs is holding Passport Acceptance Fairs around the country for children and first-time applicants. Again, appointments may be required. (For regular schedule updates, visit www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/news/special-passport-acceptance-fairs.html)
For more information about passports and travel, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ passport and international travel website (www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/apply-early.html).
Contact John Przybys at reviewjournal.com. or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.