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U.S. passport delays have eased — but aren’t yet back to normal

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Long delays to get a recent U.S. passport have eased from earlier in 2023 but have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic baseline.

As of Nov. 6, the U.S. State Department is processing routine passport applications in seven to 10 weeks, the agency said. It’s processing expedited applications — which cost more — in three to 5 weeks.

Travelers who applied for a passport between March 24 and Oct. 1 — the height of the backlog — waited 10 to 13 weeks for routine passport processing, and five to seven weeks for an expedited application.

After factoring in additional mailing time, the State Department had been recommending travelers apply not less than six months ahead of planned travel or passport expiration.

“Passport processing times are definitely shorter than they were,” said Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet. “[But] it’s still a very long time frame in case you’re attempting to jump on some form of last-minute airfare deal” like ones typically offered on “Travel Tuesday,” which falls on Nov. 28 this yr.

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Record passport demand fuels delays

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Passport processing delays resulted from high demand for international travel as pandemic-era health fears and travel restrictions loosened.

The State Department issued greater than 24 million passport books and cards between October 2022 and September 2023, a record number during a federal fiscal yr.

The agency has tried to chop the backlog by “aggressively” recruiting and hiring across passport agencies and centers, having passport staff log “tens of 1000’s” of additional time hours a month, and opening a satellite office to assist process applications, it said.

“As more Americans are traveling internationally again, we’re directing resources to fulfill the unprecedented demand seen to date in 2023,” the State Department said.

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Though delays have improved, they don’t seem to be yet back to normal.

Before the pandemic, it took two to 3 weeks for expedited passports and 6 to eight weeks for routine passport processing, the State Department said.

“It’s at all times been a good period of time,” French said. “You’ve at all times needed to plan well prematurely to get that passport.”

The State Department anticipates additional updates to processing times later this yr.

Passport demand generally fluctuates all year long. Processing times are typically faster throughout the slower season from October through December, in line with the State Department.

How much does a passport cost?

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A standard passport — a passport book — costs $130. First-time applicants must pay a further $35 acceptance fee.

Travelers pays more for faster service. Expedited passport processing costs an additional $60.

Travelers can buy expedited delivery of a recent passport book by mail — for delivery in a single to 2 days — for an additional $19.53.

They also can send an application more quickly by purchasing Priority Mail Express service from the United States Postal Service. The price varies depending on the realm of the country, in line with the State Department.

In some circumstances, travelers may have the ability to speed up the method further.

Life-or-Death Emergency Service is accessible for people traveling abroad in the subsequent three business days and who’ve a professional emergency. Urgent Travel Service is for those traveling abroad inside 14 calendar days.

Why a nonexpired passport can still cost you

U.S. passports are generally valid for 10 years. They’re valid for five years if issued before age 16.

In some cases, Americans will not be allowed to travel even when their passport hasn’t yet expired. Some countries disallow entry if a passport’s expiration falls just a couple of months after a visit’s end date.

For example, the Schengen Area, which encompasses 27 European nations, requires a U.S. passport be valid for not less than 90 days beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen Area.

Many countries within the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions require not less than six months of validity for permission to enter. Other areas, similar to Hong Kong and Macao, require one month.

This is among the many explanation why it’s generally smart to think about renewing a passport a yr out from its expiration date, French said.

You may have to apply for a separate visa to enter certain nations, a process that requires additional time and planning. The State Department has information about passport and visa requirements for specific countries.

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