Waiting for your passport to arrive? You will have to wait at least several months

The only way to get a passport quickly right now is for life-and-death emergencies.



If you are planning a trip abroad this summer, don’t pack your bags just yet.

The U.S. State Department stopped processing passport applications and renewals on March 19, and there’s no telling when they will restart.

Concerns involving COVID-19 forced the suspension of passport services for the safety of employees and customers.

“We are working on a plan to reopen in phases over several months,” according to a Department of State official. “We do not know the exact date when we’ll be able to reopen and resume normal services.”

The decision on when and how to reopen will be guided by the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These agencies are providing recommendations on ensuring the health of customers and employees.

In the meantime, passport applications and renewals are at a standstill. It is likely citizens will be waiting “at least several months” to get their passports, the official said. The usual wait time is between six to eight weeks.

“With so many unknowns about when we’ll be able to reopen and resume normal operations,” the official said, “we cannot confidently estimate when we’ll return to our normal processing times…If customers apply for or renew their passport now, they will experience significant delays.”

Hampering the ability to operate at full capacity is the unpredictable nature of how COVID-19 spreads illness through communities. Opening operations across the country will depend largely on public health measures in each state and individual cities where the State Department has passport agencies and centers. 

So, if you have already purchased a plane ticket for a trip outside the country and you are waiting for your passport, the State Department isn’t offering much hope you will receive it in time.

“We cannot advise people on their personal travel plans,” the official said.

The only way to get a passport quickly right now is for life-and-death emergencies. Travelers can still receive a passport within three days, the official said. Life-and-death emergencies involve serious illnesses, injuries or deaths in your immediate family, such as a parent, child, spouse or sibling. It also requires that you travel outside the United States within 72 hours.

To apply for an emergency passport, you must first purchase a ticket because one of the items you must provide in the application is proof of international travel specific to the emergency.

“We will make every effort to issue your passport before your scheduled departure,” the official said. “But if you do not have all forms and documents, we cannot guarantee you will receive a passport within 72 hours.”

Besides the ticket, an application for an emergency passport will require proof of the emergency, such as a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional. These must be in English or translated in English.

This is in addition to the standard passport application form with all its supporting documents.

Emergency passports are only processed by appointment at the 26 State Department passport agencies and centers located across the country. Do not apply for one at a local post office, library or court clerks’ office. 

There are some alternatives that allow international travel without a passport. A U.S. passport card, rather than the standard book, or an Enhanced Driver’s License are among some documentation that can be used for travel into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean countries. However, travel is limited to travel by land or sea. They are not acceptable for reentry into the United States by air.

For more information:

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for documents and alternatives to U.S. passport books. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/western-hemisphere-travel-initiative

The U.S. State Department website for operating updates: travel.state.gov

Check the status of your passport application online: passportstatus.state.gov 

Information on how to apply for a passport at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/forms.html

To make an appointment for an emergency passport at one of the nearest 26 passport agencies or centers, call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 (1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY) on Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time, except federal holidays. Call 202-647-4000 outside of these hours to make an appointment. 

May 14, 2020

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