We’ve all been cooped up the past year and many of us can’t wait to travel to far off places again. As the world opens back up, make sure you don’t get sidelined by red tape and bureaucracy.

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detail of man holding passport at waist level

At the moment, the U.S. State Department has a giant backlog (1.5 million to be exact) in passports to process, and they’re warning people to give them plenty of lead time.

Standard processing times are currently delayed

You can expect an up to 18-week wait for standard passport processing for both new and renewal services. The State Department asks citizens to start the process about 6 months from when you plan to travel.

Limited expedited passport services too

In the past, for a little inconvenience you could get your passport on the same day. By visiting a Passport office (there are a few scattered across the country), waiting in a long line, and paying a fee to expedite, you’d walk away with your passport that day.

Now, the State Department warns of extremely limited in-person passport appointments available that you must make within 72 hours of travel. And there are no guarantees. That makes it a big gamble if you bought airline tickets, booked hotel rooms and made international travel plans.

You can also pay an extra $60 for standard expedited service, but again, even with “rushed” services you can expect to wait 12 weeks. Yikes!

The best path forward right now is to simply start the passport application or renewal process as soon as you can. Give yourself the full 6 months and then you can be happy if it comes in a bit early.

Dig that passport out today!

The last thing you need is to be in a panic – so why not locate your passport now and just make sure you’re not too close to expiration. A lot of us might have had this document sitting in the back of a drawer for the past year and not realized it was up for renewal.

This is where it gets a little tricky. Technically you aren’t strictly required by the U.S. government to have 6 months of validity on your passport. However, many countries expect you have at least 3- 6 months left on your passport. This is generally because countries allow tourists to stay 3-6 months on a tourist visa. Should you decide to extend your stay or run into an emergency situation, the little cushion protects you from red tape and stress.

Some countries will not permit you to enter if you do not have at least 6 months left, and some airlines will not even allow you to board without it. So for these reasons, we strongly suggest you have at least 6 months left on your passport.

Lots of people right now are reporting that they didn’t realize their passport was about to expire until they’d already purchased tickets for their first post-pandemic trip. Don’t be caught off guard by poor planning.

Customer Support is Limited

One other thing to consider. Along with processing time delays, the State Department also cautions that their call centers are heavily taxed right now. You can expect long hold times if you call for a status and even then, staff will probably not be in a position to speed things up. Once again, all signs point toward a better, less stressful experience when you plan 6 months out.

How long will this last?

The government is staffing up right now to help meet the demands of U.S. travelers who need passport services, but hiring and training take time. Best to plan for continued delays at least for the near future.

We’re curious. Do you have plans to travel internationally this year? What’s your passport situation? Are you new to international travel or someone who simply needs to renew your passport? And will this passport backlog impact your plans? Sound off in the comments below. We’d love to hear if this will cause you to change your own travel plans.

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