By Andrea Sachs
September 1, 2015
Here’s a tip for the millions of Americans who applied for a passport in 2007, the year the U.S. government made travelers carry the blue book or other approved documents for all travel within the Western Hemisphere: Prepare to renew. Need more motivation? September is Passport Awareness Month.
After implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, requiring a passport for air travel to and from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, the State Department experienced a rush of applications, from 12.1 million in 2006 to 18.6 million the following year. The book is valid for 10 years, and the agency is preparing for an onslaught of renewals from the WHTI Generation.
“We encourage passport applicants to apply for or renew U.S. passports well ahead of planned travel,” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services, “as we anticipate longer-than-average wait times for passport processing” starting around the New Year.
To handle the deluge, the department has added more than 550 passport services employees since 2007 and plans to hire more over the next two years. It also opened 10 new passport agencies across the country and may expand call-center hours during the next few years.
Processing time is, on average, four to six weeks. However, during particularly heavy periods, the wait might stretch to 10. The agency is expecting 16 million applications in 2016 and 20 million in 2017. So, put two and two together. . .
To avoid the stress, Sprague says to “renew at once” if you have six months of validity remaining and “consider renewing now” if you have a year left. She also reminds travelers that they can no longer receive page inserts overseas starting January 1, 2016.
“If you are running out of pages even though your book remains valid,” she said, “you should also renew.”
Mail is the quickest and cheapest route to renewal; you can find all of the forms and requirements on the State Department’s Web site. Another helpful tip: September through December is typically slow season. Frequent jet-setters should request a 52-page book so they can avoid any emergency trips to the passport agency.