Planning International Travel? Here's Why You Need to Check Your Passport Now

The Department of State's passport operations delays and U.S. Mail service delays could leave you in a lurch

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What to Know

  • Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after the start of your international trip.
  • Adult passports are good for 10 years, passports for children under the age of 16 are valid for five years.
  • Under current conditions, the wait time for passport processing takes 18 weeks for routine service.

International travel is ramping up again, but if you're hoping to take off for an exotic destination, take a look at your passport. If it's close to expiring, you may already have a problem.

Mitzi Sartain's family made plans to head to Turks and Caicos Islands for summer vacation, but she noticed her passport would expire within three months.

Knowing she needed a passport that was valid for at least six months after the start of her international trip, she went to the North Dallas Passport Government Center.

"I went in the day of my appointment, I spoke to a gentleman there that told me I would actually need to since it was a renewal passport, that I would need to place it in the mail," she recalled. "I asked, 'Do I need to expedite this?' and he said 'No, you do not need to expedite this, you have plenty of time, just go to the post office and place it in the mail and you should get it in plenty of time for your trip.'"

She mailed her documents directly to a processing center, but weeks and weeks later -- still no passport, no answers and no in-person emergency appointment.

"It's been kind of a nightmare, from just making contact, I've been on the phone with the Department of State trying to get through to them each day. At times I was on hold for two hours, at times I was on hold for four hours," said Sartain. "It's just like banging your head against the wall, you can't get through on the telephone, you can't make an appointment online, it's a very frustrating process."

Sartain has even considered going out of state to get her passport.

"I get up every night at midnight, log into the site to see if there's a reasonable appointment anywhere in the nation that has potentially opened up. And everywhere I have searched all over the United States at regional passport agencies, there is zero appointments available."

Sartain is like many, many people all over the country who are ready to jet to international destinations, but the Department of State's passport operations haven't caught up yet, because of COVID-related staffing limitations. And the U.S. Mail service is delayed, too.

"We see operational increases every day," said Laura Pascarella with the Department of State. "But for folks that are planning to travel for the summer, trying to calculate when to submit the application so that they can take X trip, they need to understand that passport processing times have been extended."

Department of State Passport Tips

  • Send your passport application via trackable mail.
  • Pay an extra fee for 1-2 day delivery for the return of your passport.
  • You can renew your passport whenever you want, there's no need to wait until it's about to expire.

How Long Does It Take?

Under current conditions, that time is 18 weeks for routine service -- from the day you mail your application to the day you can expect to receive your document. That's 12 weeks for processing and up to 6 weeks for mailing time.

If you expedite service, for an additional $60, it can take up to 12 weeks from the day an application is submitted to the day a new passport is received.

Keep in mind people with life-or-death emergencies get priority. "It does mean that at the moment it decreases the number of appointments available for general travel," said Pascarella.

Sartain did end up getting her passport in time for her family vacation, but she has a warning for others.

"I never imagined that I would run into this, or never dreamed that it would be a process like this, I would definitely recommend to anyone — plan far ahead," said Sartain.

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