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US State Dept. prioritizing urgent travel: Here's how and when to renew your passport

July 22, 2021
8 min read
U.S. passports
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Editor's Note

This story was updated on July 22, 2021 with new information. It was originally published on July 8.

If you're an avid traveler, chances are you're well aware of when your U.S. passport expires and your options for renewal. However, like everything else, the pandemic has complicated that process. Application renewals were suspended for several months and now there is a huge backlog of renewal applications.

But the good news is that expedited processing is once again available. Here's everything you need to know about renewing your passport right now.

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When should you renew your passport?

(Photo by Jeff Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

The State Department website has a handy calculator to help you figure out your passport renewal options and cost.

When timing your passport renewal, you should keep in mind your expiration date as well as where and when you're traveling. Ideally, you should renew it at least six months before it expires, especially if you have travel coming up to countries that require six months of validity.

Regardless of entry requirements, it's always best to renew ahead of time to avoid backlogs during busy travel periods and possible delays like those we've experienced during the pandemic.

A U.S. passport is valid for ten years for most adults, or five years if it was issued before age 16. Standard passport renewal can take up to 18 weeks (up to 12 weeks for processing and 6 weeks for mailing), though you can pay $17.56 to have it delivered within 1-2 days of processing.

In early July, U.S. Department of State deputy assistant secretary for passport services Rachel Arndt told reporters that the wait time for new and renewal routine passport applications currently ranges from 12 to 18 weeks.

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Related: US State Department warns of 18-week wait times for passport applications

You can also pay an extra $60 to have your passport expedited to 12 weeks (6 weeks processing and 6 weeks mailing). Again, you can tack on the $17.56 expedited shipping fee to move things along quicker. Arndt warned in her briefing that expeditated applications still face wait times of up to 12 weeks.

If you need your passport even faster, you can choose the in-person Expedited Agency Processing option, which also costs $60 but requires you to travel within the next 72 hours. This option wasn't available during much of the pandemic, but now that things have normalized and travel demand has skyrocketed, it's back.

A very limited number of appointments are available for both emergency and non-emergency travel within 72 hours. As of July 22, these appointments can only be scheduled via phone, as the State Department announced they were temporarily suspending their online appointment system.

Renewal: Why I renewed our passports in the midst of a pandemic and how long it took

Countries that require six months of passport validity

Here's a round-up of the countries that require U.S. citizens to have at least six months of validity on their passports. I've notated the few that require three months or less:

  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
  • Bhutan
  • Bolivia
  • Botswana
  • Brunei
  • Burma (Myanmar)
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • China
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
  • Czech Republic
  • Djibouti
  • Ecuador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • France (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
  • French Polynesia
  • Gabon
  • Germany (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Honduras
  • Iceland (three months validity required)
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Italy
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan (three months validity requirement)
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritania
  • Malaysia
  • Micronesia
  • Mongolia
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Nepal
  • Netherlands
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Palau
  • Panama (three months validity)
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Qatar
  • Rwanda
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Russia
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • South Sudan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Spain (three months required, six recommended)
  • Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Tajikistan (three months required)
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Timor-Leste (East Timor)
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Tuvalu
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Vanuatu
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen
  • Zambia

Countries that require passport  validity at the time of entry

(Photo by michaeljung/Shutterstock)

While most countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months, a few require validity at the time of entry or throughout your stay. If you're visiting one of these countries, you can put off renewing your passport as long as the expiration date isn't during your trip:

  • Argentina
  • Belize
  • Brazil
  • Burundi
  • Canada (three months for onward travel to Europe)
  • Chile
  • Costa Rica
  • Israel
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Mauritius
  • Nicaragua
  • Paraguay
  • Phillippines
  • Saint Luci
  • Somalia
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom (six months for onward travel)
  • Uruguay
  • West Bank and Gaza

Related: Americans can now visit 90+ countries and territories — here’s the complete list

How should you renew your passport?

You can renew your U.S. passport via mail or in-person. You will need to fill out Form DS-82 and provide a photo, your most recent passport and a check for the fees. Make sure your photo complies with the specified guidelines.

In-person renewals were restricted to life-and-death emergencies during the pandemic. Now, this option has been expanded again to those with travel booked within the next 72 hours.

If you're mailing your renewal application, keep in mind that you have to use the United States Postal Service (USPS). No exceptions. If you use another carrier, your renewal package will be returned to you without being processed. If you're mailing your passport renewal application from Canada, you must use Canada Post.

Related: Should you apply for or renew a passport right now? Everything you need to know

How much does it cost?

Renewing your U.S. passport costs $110 for a passport book or $140 for both the book and a passport card. You can also pay $60 to get your application expedited, which takes up to 12 weeks (including standard shipping and processing).

I once renewed my passport in July using the expedited option and got it back in less than two weeks. That probably won't happen now, so definitely plan ahead.

If you need your passport renewed faster than 12 weeks, you can do so in person at a passport agency. This option can take 24-72 hours and is available if you can provide proof of travel within the next 72 hours. You'll typically be required to show proof of upcoming travel and an official document (i.e., doctor's note) verifying the emergency.

Related: Top credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

What country holds the most powerful passport?

While the U.S. has historically been in the top five most powerful passport list, that began to change inn 2019 when it dropped to number six on the Henley Passport Index. Since then, the U.S. has shared the number seven spot, alongside the U.K., Switzerland, Norway, Belgium and New Zealand.

Japan has ranked as the most powerful passport since 2018. The ranking is established based on the number of countries passport holders can access.

Top 10 most powerful passports

Here's a current list of ten countries with the most powerful passports:

  1. Japan (193 countries)
  2. Singapore (192 countries)
  3. Germany, South Korea (191 countries)
  4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190 countries)
  5. Austria, Denmark (189 countries)
  6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188 countries)
  7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187 countries)
  8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186 countries)
  9. Australia, Canada (185 countries)
  10. Hungary (184 countries)

10 least powerful passports

The least powerful passports include countries throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East with ongoing conflicts. Afghanistan and Iraq are at the bottom of the list, granting access to just 26 and 28 countries, respectively.

  1. Afghanistan (26 countries)
  2. Iraq (28 countries)
  3. Syria (29 countries)
  4. Pakistan (32 countries)
  5. Yemen (33 countries)
  6. Somalia (34 countries)
  7. Palestinian territories (37 countries)
  8. Nepal (38 countries)
  9. North Korea (39 countries)
  10. Libya and Kosovo (40 countries)

Bottom line

Keep in mind that your passport number will change when you renew it. That means if you're part of a trusted travel program like Global Entry, you'll need to update your passport information. Luckily, you can do this online.

Simply log into your account and click on the "Update Documents" tab to enter your new passport number. The only change you can't make online is a name change, for which you'll have to visit a Global Entry enrollment center.

Read more: Learn from my experience: How to avoid a 7-week passport renewal saga

Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.

Featured image by Passports (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

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  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
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  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
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