Dipping my toes in the warm, vibrant blue waters in the Bahamas. Gazing up at the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. For obvious reasons, I can’t travel. But now, a girl can’t even dream.

My passport expired this week and like millions of Americans I have a choice to make: either send it off knowing that it will likely take months for it to get processed and returned or wait until passport agencies are fully operational again. Here’s what you need to know to make that decision. 

What’s happening with passport offices right now? 

There are 26 regional passport agencies throughout the United States. The reopening for each of these agencies is based on a three-phase format. Courtesy of the US Department of State

Phase 1: Limited staffing; appointments at agencies limited to life-or-death emergencies only 
Phase 2: Additional staff return to the agency; appointments for life-or-death emergencies only; applications processed on first in, first out basis
Phase 3: All staff return to agencies; limited appointments for customers traveling within two weeks; applications processed first in, first out basis

Passport Agencies Reopening Phases.jpg
A graphic explaining the reopening phases for US passport agencies © Courtesy of the US Department of State

According to the Department of State, as of July 13, five passport agencies (Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York and Vermont) have been cleared to enter Phase 2, while 12 agencies, including the National Passport Center, are entering Phase 1. 

Passport agencies in Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and the Western Passport Center have not entered Phase 1. Click here to track the reopenings. With the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the country, there's no timetable on how long it will take passport agencies to reach the final phase of reopening.  

Though the process has been slow – there was a backlog of well over a million passport applications in early summer – the agencies are seemingly making process. According to reports and statistics, for the month of July, the number of passports awaiting issuance dropped from 1.43 million to 1.23 million. 

“Every Thursday, we will publish US passport statistics in the table below so you can track our weekly progress as staff at our agencies and centers safely work on applications,” reads the department state website. 

Can I renew my passport right now? 

Yes, but keep in mind, life-or-death emergencies are a priority. Then it’s first received, first processed. Expedited passport services have been suspended. (If you paid for expedited service before it was suspended, you can request a refund). If you’ve already submitted your passport application or are planning on it, expect significant delays (anywhere between eight weeks to over five months).

Agencies won’t be able to provide specific updates. When checking the status of your passport application online you’ll most likely see “Not Found,” which means the application is in transit, or “In Process,” which means the application is with the DOS. 

You have a five-year grace period to renew your passport. 

Young woman at an airport holding passport and looking at the departures board
Life-or-death emergenices are a priority for US passport agencies © FatCamera / Getty Images

What if my passport expires while I’m abroad? 

You will need to contact the US embassy in the country you’re residing in. Like in the US, embassies and consulates are processing emergency passports first. Renewal of non-emergency passport applications will also be significantly delayed. If you must send off your passport for renewal, get some form of proof of citizenship document from the embassy or consulate before sending anything off. 

You might also like: 

The Bahamas bans US travelers 
Are you willing to give up traveler privacy to fight the coronavirus? 
The EU will keep its borders closed to US travelers for now

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