Summer travelers planning to venture abroad are facing a new challenge: delays in obtaining passports. An unprecedented surge in demand for travel documents has created a growing backlog, causing significant delays for those hoping to embark on international trips.
The standard passport renewal process, which typically takes a few weeks, can now take up to 13 weeks, while even expedited service could take up to nine weeks.
The prolonged waiting times are generating travel anxiety for many.
Kylie Parker, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, applied for a new, expedited passport several months ago, confident she had ample time before her summer study abroad program. But with her departure for Portugal and Italy now just days away, her passport has yet to arrive, jeopardizing her plans.
“I spent eight hours on the phone with the passport office,” she said. “No calls though, no calls back. No contact with anyone. I’m very scared of missing my travel abroad trip.”
After finally reaching someone, Parker was informed that the only available in-person appointments were on the same day in New Hampshire or the following morning in Minneapolis, which would require an overnight flight costing $1,200. Alternatively, she said she was told she could schedule an appointment in Seattle, Washington, on the day she is scheduled to depart for Europe.
Caleb Monticalvo, a frustrated applicant from San Francisco, was told to seek other locations.
“They said the only other option was to go to another location, which is in L.A. I’m not going to go to L.A.,” he said.
Last year, the State Department issued nearly 22 million passports, a record high. Demand for passports has surged by at least 30% this year, as 500,000 applications come in weekly.
Despite increased funding and more staff, the backlog has persisted and wait times continue to grow. That has prompted passport offices across the country to see long lines as travelers rush to secure their travel documents before an anticipated record-breaking summer travel season.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that he recognizes the problem and has implemented a task force to coordinate efforts focused on resolving the issue.
“We’re offering overtime, opening satellite offices to help HQ in processing times,” Blinken said.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst, said the delays are not only “alarming,” but also “embarrassing.”
“I know people have been waiting three, four months to get their passports fulfilled,” he said.
Travelers should be aware that even passports expiring in 2024 could pose a problem, as many countries require the document to be valid for up to six months beyond the arrival date.