US State Dept. prioritizing urgent travel: Here’s how and when to renew your passport
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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?
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.
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.
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:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Belgium (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
- Burma (Myanmar)
- Central African Republic
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Czech Republic
- Equatorial Guinea
- France (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
- French Polynesia
- Germany (must be valid for three months beyond planned departure from the Schengen Area)
- Iceland (three months validity required)
- Kazakhstan (three months validity requirement)
- Marshall Islands
- Panama (three months validity)
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of the Congo
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- Spain (three months required, six recommended)
- Tajikistan (three months required)
- Timor-Leste (East Timor)
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
Countries that require passport validity at the time of entry
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:
- Canada (three months for onward travel to Europe)
- Costa Rica
- Saint Luci
- United Kingdom (six months for onward travel)
- West Bank and Gaza
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.
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.
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:
- Japan (193 countries)
- Singapore (192 countries)
- Germany, South Korea (191 countries)
- Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190 countries)
- Austria, Denmark (189 countries)
- France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188 countries)
- Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187 countries)
- Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186 countries)
- Australia, Canada (185 countries)
- 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.
- Afghanistan (26 countries)
- Iraq (28 countries)
- Syria (29 countries)
- Pakistan (32 countries)
- Yemen (33 countries)
- Somalia (34 countries)
- Palestinian territories (37 countries)
- Nepal (38 countries)
- North Korea (39 countries)
- Libya and Kosovo (40 countries)
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.
Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.
Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy
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