Passport processing times for new or renewed US passports have reached alarmingly long lengths this Summer. Americans who are planning international trips right now who are in need of these services are either scrambling to make their plans work, or worse: cancelling and/or rescheduling them altogether.
The US State Department announced that postal service delays are greatly affecting their ability to receive passport applications, and thus process them. Even expedited passport processing can take up to twelve weeks with the current holdup. Normal service currently clocks in at a duration of eighteen weeks — that’s roughly four and a half months.
“Currently, our wait time for both new and renewal routine passport applications can be up to 18 weeks, and that includes our processing time, the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt said in a statement.
The cause of the setback is widely credited to complications from the coronavirus pandemic. The United States Postal Service says it is working diligently to correct the issue: “We will continue to work closely with the State Department to address our valued customers questions on any issues regarding the processing of passport applications.”
“At AAA we are seeing so many travelers, sometimes entire families, that have been forced to cancel or postpone their trips because passport processing has taken longer than they anticipated,” said Dianne Bourgoin, a spokesperson for AAA Travel. “One of the first questions we are now asking our clients is about the passport status of all travelers.”
AAA stresses that those planning to travel internationally from the USA — even to Canada — get on top of their passport renewal process immediately, and have the current delays factored into their plans.
“Some travelers with bookings this Summer have already had to postpone until next year,” Bourgoin said. “And, for those who are uninsured for such a change in plans, the cancellation is much more than an inconvenience. It’s a costly miscalculation.”
Scammers using bots to sell passport appointments
The situation for travelers recently became so dire that people began to exploit the demand for passport appointments by taking slots and selling them to desperate applicants for hundreds to thousands of dollars.
The scammers utilized bots programmed to take available appointments immediately as they opened, leaving real travelers seeking appointments closed out and forced to turn to the scammers for their slots.
They took the appointments — which of course are typically free — and posted them on the “US Passports and Visas” Facebook group in order to prey on the group’s members.
The scam caused the State Department to temporarily shut down its online appointment system. They subsequently posted a message on their website stating that the system was closed to prevent the sale of the appointments.
Tips for navigating passport processing
- Make sure to get a tracking number for your passport after sending it through the mail. This way you can keep track of your application and ensure its arrival.
- For an extra fee, you can pay to have your passport delivered by priority mail in 1-2 business days after your application has been processed.
- You can start the passport renewal process at any time. If you know your passport is due for renewal within a year, and have a trip planned further in the future, you should consider getting the process started now, even during the delays.