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Historic Passport Renewal Backlog Leaving Some Travelers In Limbo

The State Department is warning Americans who want to apply or renew their passport to allow for ample time before booking international travel.

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A passport is your ticket to a trip abroad and this year, a record-number of Americans are planning to travel internationally.

But that record demand for passport renewals has led to a historic backlog in processing in the U.S. State Department Consular Affairs offices across the country.

Some travelers are having to book second separate trips, just to try and get their passports renewed in time.

Like Meredith Adler of Chicago, who had planned a sunny vacation with her friends in Mexico this month.

All she needed was her passport renewed.

“In total, I probably called [the State Department] 70 to 80 times,” Adler explained.

Adler said she applied in January, and even paid for expedited processing to ensure she would have her renewed passport in time. But with just two weeks until takeoff, Adler still didn’t have it, and the anxiety started to settle in.

She says she quickly realized an in-person renewal appointment was her best bet. However, there were no available appointments in Chicago. Adler said a State Department employee told her getting an appointment in Chicago would be “like winning the lottery.” 

“They offered me an appointment in New Orleans, Dallas or Denver,” Adler explained, meaning she’d first have to take a domestic trip in order to get her passport renewed before she could travel internationally.

The problems stemming from this historic backlog were made clear by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing last month.

Blinken said the State Department is facing “unprecedented demand,” receiving an average of 500,000 passport applications a week, 30 to 40% more this year than last year.

For a regular passport, Americans are waiting 10 to 13 weeks, Blinken explained, and for an expedited passport, the wait is between seven to nine weeks.

For regular passport renewal processing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says it's taking officials 10 to 13 weeks to complete, and seven to nine weeks for expedited processing.

When international travel tanked during the pandemic, the State Department reassigned or laid off passport staff. Now it is increasing its staff to meet the demand. 

“This is a demand that we’ve never seen before in passport services,” said John Hoban, Customer Service Manager for the U.S. State Department’s Chicago Passport Agency. “We’re really ramping up our capacity to meet this demand.” 

If you’re planning to travel outside of the United States anytime soon or this year, travel experts advise checking your passport’s expiration date immediately. 

If you need to renew your passport, start the process early. Some experts are suggesting travelers wait to book any flights or hotels until they have their renewed passport in hand. 

“The early bird gets the worm,” said travel expert Scott Keyes. “If you think there is any chance you’ll travel internationally in the next five, six, or seven years, it will be to your personal benefit to apply for that passport now.” 

If travelers pay for expedited processing, yet the State Department does not process it in time, a spokesperson confirms the extra fees may be refunded.

To learn more about the requirements for a refund, and how to apply, click here

With no appointments in Chicago, Adler ended up driving to Detroit, MI. for an appointment to renew her passport, which proved to be successful. 

Though it was no easy journey, she did make it to Mexico City with her friends. 

“It was definitely like a moment of panic,” Adler said of the situation. “Just renew as soon as possible. Mine expired in October and I wish I would have done it immediately.”

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