Many Americans are keen to explore the world again after a year of travel restrictions. But a surge in demand has led to a delay in passport processing times, with some centers experiencing a turnaround time of up to 18 weeks. If you plan to travel soon, here's what you need to know about renewing or applying for a passport in time for your trip.

The Department of State Travel is advising travelers to allow up to 18 weeks to receive their passport documents and is urging the public to plan ahead and apply well before any scheduled travel. Some centers are processing passports within a 12-week timeframe but other service providers, including the US postal service, have been experiencing operational issues which the Department explains is resulting in delays in applications getting to passport agencies and centers.

"Due to these delays, routine service can take up to 18 weeks from the day a customer submits their application to the day they receive a new passport," a Department spokesperson told Lonely Planet. "The 18-week timeframe includes up to 12 weeks for processing and up to six weeks for mailing times."

Travelers in masks at La Guardia airport
Applicants are encouraged to renew their passports as soon as possible ©Bloomberg/Getty Images

When applying for a new passport, it's important to note that the processing times listed on the website begin the day they receive your application, not the day you mail it.

Generally, customers applying for routine service domestically can expect to receive a passport within 12 weeks from the date of application, or within six weeks from the date the application is received if they pay an additional $60 fee to expedite their passport. You can apply for a new passport through the post office, clerks of court, and public libraries but the Department is encouraging applicants to renew their passports by mail when possible as a "safe, contactless option".

In exceptional circumstances, such as cases of life-or-death emergencies and essential travel, passports can potentially be renewed within 72 hours. However, customers must request an appointment through the Department of State Travel website and present proof of travel within the next three days.

Social Security cards and US passports
 The summer surge and COVID-related operational issues are causing a delay in passport application turnaround times ©Reptile8488/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Speaking about the reasons for delays, the Department spokesperson explained "we always see an upsurge during the summer travel season. While this year isn’t as large as previous seasons because of the pandemic, we are still under COVID-19-related staffing restrictions. We urge people not to wait to apply for a passport and apply at least six months ahead of planned travel when possible."

The Department is also encouraging applicants to do their research before applying for a passport through "passport expeditors" courier companies.

"Be wary - they charge additional fees, and you will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person at a Passport Agency," the spokesperson warned. "You are still required to appear in person at an acceptance facility if applying on Form DS-11 (first-time application), even when using a courier service."

For more information on passport applications and renewals, see here.

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