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

Nov 4, 2020

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It’s been 294 days since we were last outside the U.S.

That international foray was a brief five-hour jaunt to Mexico on a four-night Disney Cruise — but still an important benchmark. In an alternate timeline, we would have collected at least three or four more passport stamps since then with planned trips to Banff in Canada and Europe using points and miles.

Related: Guide to where Americans can travel internationally

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Now, however, we don’t know for sure when we will leave the country again. Most countries won’t take us, and for now, we’ve taken to keeping our travels closer to home.

Still, time continues on, and my 5-year-old daughter’s first passport expired since that cruise. My passport had less than a year left — which really means less than six months left in regards to many destinations.

So, even though we had no definitive international travel plans, we renewed our passports in the midst of a pandemic for two reasons: one practical, the other rooted in hope. Here’s how the process went and how long it took to get our new passports in our hands.

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There’s a backlog of passport applications

Close to 1 million U.S. passport applications and renewals are currently waiting to be processed. In the last week of September, there were 176,000 applications submitted and 168,000 successfully processed. That means the U.S. Department of State was struggling to stay ahead of the backlog, and it is taking longer than usual to get a passport right now.

However, expedited service has recently become available once again for an additional fee, and a limited number of in-person appointments for those with urgent international travel within 72 hours are also again available.

Related: Should you renew your passport right now?

When international travel is more readily available, it’s likely there will be a surge of travelers realizing they need to update passports that may have expired during the pandemic.

I wanted to get our paperwork in sooner in case things get worse later — either because of the aforementioned surge or, also possibly because we return to a more locked-down state of operations where routine renewals aren’t processed at all.

After all, not every acceptance facility is operational. There are a few situations (such as your first passport or for a child’s passport) when you have to apply in person, so you need both federal processing to be operational, as well as your local post office, courthouse or other facility to be open so you can apply in person. (Be sure to make an appointment online in advance.)

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

As you look at your own passport expiration dates, remember that child passports expire after just five years — and most passports aren’t all that useful in the last six months of validity.

New passports give us something to look forward to

In addition to simple paperwork reasons, putting on our masks and walking into the post office to renew our passports was done mostly in the name of hope. Hope that there will be future travel opportunities. Hope that our U.S. passports will one day be widely accepted again. Hope that we’ll beat this virus.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

For my own mental health, I needed to believe that there will be a tomorrow that’s better than today. And for me, a part of believing that “normal” will return means actively preparing for its arrival by renewing our passports, continuing to collect points and miles, and dreaming about and researching where to go next.

Related: 6 trips to plan a year in advance

How long it took for our passports to renew

My renewal passport application was sent by mail in mid-August, and it took right at two months to receive the new passport that is ready to rock for almost the next decade. My daughter’s passport application that was sent on the same day, took a little over two weeks longer to arrive, but both were within the stated estimated timeframe of up to 10 to 12 weeks.

Bottom line

I don’t count countries and I couldn’t tell you how many passport stamps my children and I have, but I do treasure all of our travel experiences.

And while there’s more than enough to see and do across the U.S. to keep us busy for quite a while, we renewed our passports in the hope that, someday, we’ll be able to enjoy new adventures abroad.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy

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