Extended through March 2022: Americans overseas can return to the US with expired passports – under certain conditions

Dec 29, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

The U.S. State Department has extended a pandemic policy that allows citizens living outside the United States to return without renewed travel papers if their passports expired during the pandemic — provided they meet certain criteria.

Americans currently living outside the country and holding passports that expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, may be able to use their expired U.S. passport for direct return travel back to the U.S. until March 31, 2022.

Typically, travelers must have a passport that is valid for at least six months to be able to travel to most countries. But thousands of Americans have reportedly been stuck overseas because they can’t get renewal appointments at embassies or consulates due to the fact that many are either understaffed or closed due to COVID-19.

The change in policy was originally made “to alleviate travel difficulties and unprecedented appointment backlogs created by the global COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a State Department statement.

An estimated nine million U.S. citizens currently live abroad.

Related: How and when to renew your passport

Only U.S. citizens seeking to travel directly back to the United States qualify for the exception to travel with an expired passport. It must be in your possession, unaltered and undamaged. Your expired passport must also have been valid originally for 10 years. If you were 15 years of age or younger when the passport was issued, your expired passport must have been valid for 5 years. All American citizens — regardless of vaccination status — returning to the U.S. must still show proof of a negative COVID test result, now taken within one calendar day of departure.

It’s important to point out that the exception does not allow Americans overseas to travel to other countries with an expired passport.

President Biden did sign an executive order on Dec. 13, 2021, that directs the State Department to offer online passport renewals in the future that don’t require any physical documents to be mailed. If and when that option becomes available, renewing a passport will hopefully take much less time and effort than the current process. However, it’s important to note that a timeline for creation or implementation for such a program has yet to be announced.

In the meantime, this policy provides a much-needed respite for Americans living abroad who are unable to get their passports renewed at present.

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

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

Featured image by Clint Henderson / The Points Guy. 

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