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Parents, be prepared for long waits to get required in-person appointments for kids' passports

May 20, 2022
8 min read
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Most people can renew their U.S. passports by mail, which requires some paperwork as well as some time waiting around for processing and delivery. The State Department currently estimates the passport delivery time to be between eight and 11 weeks for routine service.

However, certain people, including first-time applicants and kids have to complete the application process in person.

Passports for children only last five years and it isn't until a child turns 16 that they can apply for a full passport valid for 10 years.

While it's already inconvenient to physically go to the application center, the larger issue at hand right now is the lack of upcoming appointment availability at certain passport acceptance facilities. This furthers the hassle and extends the amount of time it takes for people to get new passports.

"I have spent hours looking for appointments in Austin, Houston, and towns in between. Phantom appointments show up, but when you try to book them, they don't exist," said TPG reader Lori Strong, whose 13-year-old daughter's passport expires in August. "The other difficulty is you can only book appointments four weeks out. Much like a ticket to an Olivia Rodrigo concert, the appointments are sold out before they are made available."

Because children under age 16 must apply for each passport in person with both parents or guardians present, the lack of available appointments is especially problematic from a scheduling perspective.

Whether you have kids under age 16 or you're simply getting your very first passport, you may not be able to initiate the process for at least a month, which could spoil future travel plans if you don't get ahead of the situation.

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Who needs to apply for a U.S. passport in person

If you are applying for your first passport, are under 16 years old, received your previous passport when you were under 16 or your passport is more than 15 years old, you must complete the application process in person at a state acceptance facility.

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This is also the case for lost, stolen or damaged passports.

Scheduling an in-person appointment

The State Department directs individuals seeking in-person services to the nearest USPS post office, clerks of court, public libraries or other local government offices that accept passport applications on the agency's behalf.

Based on a test search for passport appointments conducted for this story, the most prolific options provided in many states are through USPS and can be scheduled online, though the availability of these appointments varies by state.

In some cities, such as Dallas, there are no available appointments in the next month at any locations.

The situation is slightly better throughout other major cities but still not great. The first available appointment at five of the six USPS locations in Austin is June 14; the same is true for all Houston-area locations.

Read more: Don’t necessarily expect shorter waits in applying for Global Entry and other ‘trusted traveler’ programs

Of the four major cities in Texas, San Antonio was the only one with appointments in early June.

I wondered if the situation might be better outside of the main metro areas, so I looked to the smaller cities and suburbs. Waco, which sits between Dallas and Austin, had availability as soon as June 1, but in the Houston suburbs of Spring, Pinehurst and Tomball, there were no appointments available until mid-June.

When asked for more details about the lack of appointments across the Lone Star state, both the Houston and Dallas USPS offices pointed to an increase in travel among Americans.

"Regarding our passport scheduling tool, because of the surge in demand for travel and passports, we are seeing a large volume of requests for passport appointments," a USPS spokesperson said in a statement. "Customers are advised to check the scheduling tool regularly to obtain the next available appointment time."

It's not just Texas.

Elsewhere in the country, you'll find similar wait times for appointments. In Los Angeles, appointments were not available until June 14 and in New York City, the soonest available appointment was June 10.

"The online schedule searches available appointments through the end of the current month to the end of the following month, which can be more than four weeks into the future depending on the date of inquiry," the USPS LA office told me. "Customers are advised to check the scheduler daily (either online or at a USPS kiosk)."

(Screenshot from USPS)
(Screenshot from USPS)

In Chicago and Detroit, availability varied, with services available as soon as the next day through the next week; this highlights that while this issue isn't limited to one region, it also isn't affecting every city in the same way.

"Due to public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some passport application acceptance facilities still remain closed or may be providing limited service to the public," an agency spokesperson confirmed via email. "Applicants should contact their acceptance facility location directly to determine if it is open and accepting U.S. passport applications."

Ways to get around wait times

If you have upcoming international summer travel, you likely do not have an entire month to spare without scheduling an appointment.

In this case, try checking nearby locations, such as smaller towns, both in your state but also in other parts of the country if you are really in need, as they may have sooner openings. Some TPG readers shared in the TPG Facebook Lounge that this approach helped them.

Because some acceptance facilities require appointments and others do not, the State Department advises travelers to call ahead of time to verify appointment requirements, which may lead to being able to secure an appointment over the phone.

"We are continually evaluating our Acceptance Facility Program to identify and address communities that are underserved," per the State Department. "We are focusing acceptance facility recruitment efforts on bringing more libraries, schools, universities, and municipal facilities on board."

Another limited option for travelers who fall under very specific circumstances for both emergency and non-emergency travel is to book an urgent appointment at one of 26 passport agencies and centers.

Related: Passport wait times improving, but still worse than before pandemic

The first category applies to life-or-death circumstances that require international travel within 72 hours or three business days, while the second is for all other urgent international travel plans within 14 calendar days for reasons other than emergencies.

Be sure to check to see if you meet the restrictions for either category, but note that these appointments are extremely limited, cannot be guaranteed and can only be booked via phone since the online book system is currently disabled.

(Screenshot courtesy of the State Department)

Additionally, keep checking the USPS website for available appointments in case additional ones near you become available for booking.

"We recommend U.S. citizens planning international travel this summer check their passport expiration date and act now to renew or apply for the first time," the State Department said. "If U.S. citizens need a U.S. passport for travel, they should apply well in advance to avoid issues with travel plans."

Bottom line

Although some families have refrained from traveling internationally due to COVID-19 and may have let their child's passport(s) lapse over the last two years, you should prepare to potentially face a delay in attempting to secure an appointment to get your child's next (or first) passport if they are under age 16.

Remember that passports for this age group expire every five years and since many countries require a six-month validity on passports to visit, that means you likely need to begin the renewal process closer to nine months ahead of expiration, at a minimum, since the last six months provided limited use for travel.

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

Additional reporting by Summer Hull.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
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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Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more