US travelers may finally be free from the bureaucratic scourge of months-long passport wait periods, for the first time in three years. According to the latest estimates, Americans could have their little blue books processed in less than a month.
On November 6, the State Department shortened its passport processing times to 7 to 10 weeks for regular applications and 3 to 5 weeks for expedited service. That’s a significant improvement from earlier this year, when wait times ballooned to as long as 13 weeks for routine service (not including mailing time), thanks to a glut of applications during the popular spring and summer travel seasons.
In fact, the State Department says that despite the delays, it processed a record-breaking amount of passports between October 2022 and September 2023. During that time, the department issued more than 24 million passport books and cards, which was “the most ever in our nation’s history,” according to the department’s website.
Officials say that the goal is to return to pre-pandemic timeframes by the end of 2023—and with this latest update, they’re getting close. Before the COVID-19 backlog, routine passport processing took just 6 to 8 weeks, and expedited applications were turned around in a breezy 2 to 3 weeks.
In order to shave off that added time, the State Department has been ramping up the resources available to its passport teams. “We're addressing the increased workload through a number of efforts,” says a department release. “We're aggressively recruiting and hiring across our passport agencies and centers. Our passport team members nationwide contribute tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month to issue the millions of passports sought by traveling Americans. We have opened a satellite office to help process the large number of applications we are receiving.”
Remember that processing periods from the State Department don’t include mailing time—these time frames only begin when your documents arrive at a passport center. To make the safest estimate, officials advise adding up to two weeks on either end of processing to account for mailing time. (You can also pay an extra $19.53 for one- to two-day delivery of your new passport.)
In addition to mailing costs, submitting a regular first-time application costs $165 and a regular renewal is $130, while expedited processing is an extra $60. If you’re really in a pinch, there are courier services that can help you get a passport in as little as one to three days. This ultra-fast service usually comes with an expensive fee, usually to the tune of several hundred dollars on top of the State Department’s charges.
The State Department also offers urgent processing for travelers with international trips in less than 14 days and emergency processing for those that can prove a life-or-death reason (such as a sick family member) that necessitates traveling outside of the US within three business days. Both of these options involve contacting your nearest passport agency for an in-person appointment. Keep in mind that these are usually competitive to get and require a lot of persistence, like calling frequently and potentially traveling to the first agency location with an available appointment.
It's still best to avoid any procrastination when it comes to your renewal. Earlier this fall, the State Department advised travelers to submit their passport applications at least six to nine months before an international trip. Although wait times have gotten shorter, allowing six months to complete the entire process is still probably the safest bet.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler