Most families in our traveling community have decided to delay international travel until the Covid situation improves and there is a vaccine available for young children. In that time, it seems everyone in the country has collectively figured that this is a good time to apply for or renew their passport. The influx of requests, plus mail delays, plus everyone freaking out about travel urban legends that it will take 9 months to have your passport renewed is creating a strain on the system, to put it mildly. So what is the situation right now? Here’s what you need to know about applying for or renewing your U.S. passport as we approach the end of 2021:
When Do I Need to Renew My Passport?
Passports for travelers aged 16+ are valid for 10 years; passports for kids under 16 are valid for 5 years. BUT…it’s a little more complicated than that. Some countries require a 6-month buffer to enter and as such, some airlines won’t even let you board the plane with a passport set to expire within this time. So, if you are planning on taking a trip in June 2022, and your passport is set to expire during the second half of next year, you’re going to want to think about renewing it soon. Even if you don’t have travel plans on the horizon, go check those dates now!
Important to Know
You cannot renew a passport for kids 16 and under through the mail. Contact a nearby acceptance facility (usually a post office) and determine whether they require an appointment or if you can walk in. Find your nearest acceptance facility here and the forms and list of documentation you will need here.
The same goes for applying for your child’s very first passport. Here’s our guide on taking an infant passport photo!
How long is this going to take?
Right now the State Department estimates an 18-week (yup, that’s 4 and a half months) turnaround time for routine service and 12 weeks (3 months) for expedited service. These estimates include time for mailing on the front and back end, which they estimate takes up 5-6 weeks of the process.
Ok, but is that for real?
Well, parents in our club are reporting mixed situations, with some families finding the State department estimates pretty on the nose and others who have received theirs back in 4-6 weeks using expedited services. We haven’t come across anyone who has had to deal with longer wait times than estimated. The point is, plan for the worst-case and hope for the best, and if you’re nervous, go for the expedited service and get a tracking number!
But I need a valid passport, like, now!
Tsk, tsk! Ok, things happen and sometimes stuff like this falls through the cracks. I’ve been there myself. But gone are the days where you could show up bright and early to a passport center and leave the same day, renewed passport in hand like your irresponsibility was never even a thing. At least for now. In these Covid times, you must make an appointment by phone at a passport center or agency for these emergencies, and they are limited to only those in “life or death” situations and/or have international travel booked within 72 hours. You can find more information on how to make an appointment on the State department’s website here.
If your passport renewal isn’t an emergency, but your travel is in the next several months, try expedited services for an additional $60 fee. This, plus paying extra for expedited shipping both ways are good ways to go. Your options are outlined here.
You can also work with a reputable third party, like FedEx, which has a passport expediting service. It comes with a hefty price tag on top of the standard government fees, but you can get your passport in 24 hours, and they hold your hand through the entire process. Find more information here.
In short, as with most things, the best advice is to plan ahead and be prepared. No one needs the added stress of dealing with paperwork and timelines out of your control as you prepare for the already daunting task of international travel with children. Do what you can early so that you can focus on the easy stuff, like diaper blowouts and sleepless red-eyes!
Applied to renew your passport recently? How was your experience? Share any of your tips in the comments!