Is it possible to renew your passport during the pandemic?

renewing passport during pandemic
Photo via Damian Bariexca/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After eight months of being stuck in a pandemic rut, it’s natural for travel aficionados to wonder if leaving the country on a much-needed getaway is even possible right now. On a similar note, some whose passports might be expiring are worried that getting an updated one might be a difficult endeavor during a widespread outbreak. Is renewing a passport during the pandemic actually possible?

As it turns out, you can renew your passport right now, but you will have to meet certain criteria. The U.S. Department of State is reportedly overwhelmed with a backlog of more than 900,000 passports awaiting issuance, as of mid-September. Despite that, the government agency is still processing passport renewals—with a delay and a few restrictions.

According to the agency’s frequently updated COVID-19 response page, citizens can expect to receive a passport within 10-12 weeks, with an option to pay an additional $60 for expedited service to receive it within 4-6 weeks. 

Although passport applications can be made in person at most acceptance facilities—such as post offices, clerks of court offices, and libraries—agencies and centers are currently prioritizing in-person appointments for customers who are scheduled to travel internationally in the next 72 hours due to a life-or-death emergency. Some agencies and centers have a limited number of appointments available for customers who have urgent international travel in the next 72 hours for reasons other than a life-or-death situation.  

The government page noted that applying by mail is highly encouraged given the current state of rising coronavirus cases. If you already have a passport and are hoping to renew, this is the best option for you since it provides the option to be completely contactless. However, if you are a first-time applicant, are applying for children under the age of 16, or are replacing a lost or stolen passport, you will need to apply in person at an acceptance facility. 

For renewing a passport during the pandemic, make sure you contact your local acceptance facility to see if it’s open and to make an appointment in advance—some locations are still closed or are currently providing limited service due to public health measures in place for COVID-19 spread prevention. You can also make an appointment through the USPS website if you want to apply at your local post office. Walk-in services are reportedly suspended.

When applying in person, expect to be required to wear a face covering for the duration of your appointment and to stay in a waiting room that has fewer chairs and more signs reminding customers to remain socially distant at all times. You are also encouraged to minimize your time in the agency lobby on the day of your appointment by completing all your application materials through either the online form filler or by printing the PDF of your form and filling it out prior to your arrival at the facility.

Do you even have to renew your passport?

According to The Points Guy, the rule of thumb when it comes to your passport for most international travel destinations is that it must be valid longer than your stay. To err on the side of caution and to avoid being denied to board your flight or to be denied entry upon arrival at your destination, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your intended return date. If your passport’s expiration date goes beyond that, then you may not need to renew your passport after all.

But it might not be a bad idea to start thinking about renewing your passport if it’s set to expire within the next 12 months.

Even though the U.S. government is currently still renewing passports during the pandemic, it is also important to note that not all countries are letting in U.S. citizens right now. Make sure you check the agency’s country-specific information pages to find out if the place you are hoping to visit is even accessible at this point in time.

Read more on traveling during the pandemic:

Sources: Condé Nast Traveler, U.S. Department of State [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], USPS, The Points Guy

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