Should you apply for or renew a passport right now? Everything you need to know
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Editor’s note: This post is regularly updated as new information is released. The original article was originally published on April 1, 2020.
Your United States passport is normally a symbol of your ability to move around the world. But the coronavirus pandemic has made it simply a reminder of our hopes to be traveling again when circumstances allow.
The State Department paused all but essential passport processing operations in March 2020, due to the risk of COVID-19 spread. But as of July 6, 12 passport agencies and centers have entered Phase One of the agency’s three-phase reopening plan, and four agencies and centers are now in Phase Two.
But what does that mean for you?
For the time being, it just means that the U.S. State Department is catching up on its backlog of nearly a quarter-million passport applications. Unfortunately, passport appointments are still being granted only in cases of life-and-death emergency with travel within 72 hours. However, the Phase Two update represents progress in the right direction.
Back in April, TPG spoke with David Pacella, senior director for strategic partnerships at RushMyPassport.com, to clarify the situation with passport applications and renewals.
Here’s what you need to know about renewing or applying for a passport right now.
Which passport agencies and centers are open right now?
As of July 6, the four centers that have entered Phase Two include:
All four are located in the northeast region of the U.S.
The 22 centers open under Phase One include:
- Arkansas Passport Center
- Atlanta Passport Agency
- Chicago Passport Agency
- Colorado Passport Agency
- Dallas Passport Agency
- Detroit Passport Agency
- El Paso Passport Agency
- Honolulu Passport Agency
- Houston Passport Agency
- Los Angeles Passport Agency
- Miami Passport Agency
- Minneapolis Passport Agency
- National Passport Center
- New Orleans Passport Center
- Philadelphia Passport Agency
- San Diego Passport Agency
- San Francisco Passport Agency
- San Juan Passport Agency
- Seattle Passport Agency
- Vermont Passport Agency
- Washington Passport Agency
- Western Passport Center
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you can just march in to one of these centers and walk back out with a passport. During both Phase One and Phase Two of reopening, in-person appointments will only be granted for travelers who need a passport within the next 72 hours for life-or-death emergencies only. Applicants must have a confirmed appointment for same-day processing, and must wear cloth face coverings in all common areas, including the lobby, and observe strict social distancing.
My passport expires in the next 18 months. Should I apply for my new passport right now?
Pacella emphasizes that individual needs vary, but says that the average traveler who has canceled international plans for trips in the coming months would likely benefit from renewing their passport now, especially if delaying further would run the risk of jeopardizing the passport’s six-month validity window. That rule requires that travelers have more than six months between the date when they return home from international travel and when their passport expires. A passport expiration date will not change and many other travelers will begin submitting new and renewal applications as soon as the travel ban is lifted. It’s best to beat the rush and send in your passport now so that you’ll be prepared to travel when worries over coronavirus have subsided, Pacella advises.
What is the current situation for applications?
On March 25, 2020, the State Department declared that applicants could no longer receive expedited passport services unless they had a qualified life-or-death emergency which required international travel within the next 72 hours.
That regulation was followed on April 3 with an update posted to the State Department website clarifying that standard passport applications would continue to be accepted, although the department warned of significant delays in processing times.
Now, as of July 6,
Pacella told TPG that current turnaround times are uncertain. Routine passport processing is still available through a limited number of passport acceptance agencies, which include select post offices and other government entities such as county or district clerks, as well as private third-party agencies like RushMyPassport.com.
Under typical circumstances, standard processing via the State Department takes six to eight weeks to issue or renew a passport. Expedited service through the U.S. Postal Service takes about two to three weeks. Regional passport agencies in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Houston can expedite passports (in normal times) within one business day, although most say to expect it to take between five to eight business days.
I’ve already submitted my passport application. How can I check on its status?
Applicants can sign up for status updates and check their passport status via the dedicated Passport Status website.
What if my child needs an updated passport?
Every passport application for a minor under the age of 16 requires that the child apply in person at a passport acceptance facility. Both parents must be present with the child or an absent parent must submit a notarized consent form. Children 15 and under need new passports every five years.
Applicants who are 16 years of age must also have both parents present at the passport office when applying for their first adult passport, which is valid for 10 years. However, 17-year-old applicants only need one parent present. Applicants who are 18 or older can apply for adult passports on their own.
Can I still apply for a passport at the post office?
Because many non-essential facilities are closed because of the coronavirus crisis, many passport application acceptance facilities such as libraries, clerks of court and post offices are not accepting U.S. passport applications at this time.
As of March 25, 2020, the handful of post offices that still process passport applications are requiring customers to make online appointments. If you need to apply in person for your U.S. passport, contact the facility directly to confirm the status of its operations.
Where else can I apply for or renew a passport?
There are options in addition to post offices and regional passport agencies. You’ll need to visit another “adjudication agency” to apply for a new adult passport, a passport for a child under the age of 16, or when you’re replacing a lost or stolen passport.
To find the nearest facility in your area, use this website and enter your zip code to find the closest facility. Your county or district clerk’s office may be able to resolve your passport needs, although Pacella says that it’s a good idea to call ahead and confirm that the office which handles passport applications and renewals is still open as an essential service.
Should I apply through a third-party passport agency?
Normally, companies like RushMyPassport.com excel at turning around passport renewals and new applications in record time. But since the same guidelines set forth by the State Department apply to both personal and business applicants, expedited service is not available through third-party agencies.
What circumstances qualify as an ’emergency’ for an expedited passport?
Life-or-death emergencies are serious illness, injuries or a death in your immediate family (a parent, child, spouse, sibling, aunt or uncle) which require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours (three days).
To have your passport application processed, you must provide:
- A passport application with supporting documents
- Proof of the life-or-death emergency such as a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional. Documents must be translated into or written in English
- Proof of international travel (reservation, ticket or itinerary)
To make an appointment for an expedited passport, you must call the National Passport Information Center.
Hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET); Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The number is 1-877-487-2778 (1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY). Outside of these hours, call 202-647-4000 to make an appointment.
What if I applied for expedited service?
If you applied for a passport and requested expedited service on or before March 19, 2020, the State Department will honor its commitment of a two- to three-week turnaround time, door-to-door. If you applied in-person at a passport agency or center on or before March 19, 2020, the passport agency or center will contact you to ask if you want to pick up your passport in person or have it mailed to you.
Passport applications after March 20, 2020, will are subject to standard processing times. You will not be able to apply for expedited service either directly or through third-party agencies like RushMyPassport.com, and you will not be able to pay the additional rush fee.
Puerto Ricans should be aware that the San Juan Passport Agency is closed to the public until at least April 12, 2020.
Here are more details from Pacella about the current situation:
This rundown on the current situation has undergone a lot of revisions.
Make sure the company you are using is an approved partner and courier service registered with the State Department as a hand-carry courier.
Only use this service if you are traveling soon and cannot get to a regional passport agency. Passport agencies are located in major cities and often require an appointment. If you don’t live near one or can’t get an appointment, a service like RushMypassport.com may make sense for you.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for the list of regional passport agencies.
- Applicants can sign up for status updates and check their passport status here.
Passport acceptance agent
- The passport acceptance agent is required for all new passports and child passports and for replacing a lost/stolen passport.
- This is also called an adjudication agent.
- Find your nearest agent here.
- Parents can submit a notarized consent form if they are unable to get or give consent for a minor applicant. This is required for child passports (age 15 and under). Applicants who are 16 will need both parents to give consent, even though they are eligible for an adult passport (valid for 10 years). Seventeen-year-old applicants only need one parent present.
- Minor passports for children ages 15 and younger: When one parent cannot appear in person at the Passport Acceptance Facility, they can use the DS3053 notarized consent form.
- When one parent is unavailable to give consent, the DS5525 form can be submitted. Usually this is necessary only under special circumstances, such as that of a missing parent.
Featured photo by Spencer Davis/Unsplash
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