How To Get a Passport in a Pinch

Securing your passport is all about planning ahead. But if you're short on time and traveling soon, all hope is not lost. Here's what to know.

If you’re dreaming of taking an international vacation, you’ll need a passport to turn that dream into a reality. In most cases, you’ll be waiting a while. Currently, the process can take between 6 and 11 weeks on average. So the sooner you put your plan in motion, the sooner you’ll have your passport in hand. But there are some exceptions to this rule.

For the most updated information, always check with the U.S. State Department. In the meantime, let’s talk about the passport application process, how long you’ll be waiting, and how quickly you might be able to get your passport if you need it in a hurry.

How Long Does it Usually Take?

passport on map

Prior to 2020, the typical passport processing times ranged from about four to six weeks, and sometimes up to eight weeks. Processing times have changed and the wait time is not set in stone. Currently, processing time can range from a few days to over three months, depending on a variety of factors.

According to the State Department official website, routine processing takes between 8 and 11 weeks from the day an application is received, not the day you mail the application. Currently, mail times can drastically vary across the United States. So if you’re thinking about international travel this year, don’t delay mailing your application.

How To Get an Expedited Passport

hand holding a passport

For those who need to push the process along, expedited processing takes between five and seven weeks. It also comes with extra fees. For those with a travel date five to seven weeks away, you’ll be able to pay $60 (plus the standard application fee) and buy USPS Priority Mail Express for a notably speedier process.

But if you need your passport even sooner than that, don’t panic. Just be prepared.

Let’s say you are invited on an impromptu trip to Europe a month from now, but the one thing you’re missing is your passport. In such a time crunch, your options are limited based on processing time alone, but there’s one thing you can do to potentially get your passport on time, so plan accordingly.

What To Know About Urgent Processing

For those planning to travel in under five weeks, urgent processing is possible. However, even if you are planning to travel in a month or under, you will have to wait until you’re within a few days of your departure to qualify for urgent processing.

Urgent processing is used for those with international travel plans two or three days away. If you fall into the urgent travel category, you will need to go to a passport agency or center in person to complete the process.

But do note, it’s by appointment only. You will also not be able to make that appointment until you are within two weeks of your departure date. Per Travel.State.Gov, “the appointment cannot occur more than 5 business days before your date of travel, or 10 business days if you require a visa.”

girl handing someone her passport at airport

In the meantime, make sure you have all necessary documents in order, including your application, birth certificate, and boarding documents. You’ll also need to bring all the necessary documents to your appointment to confirm the exact date you are planning to travel.

It should be noted that this urgent process is not the same as processing through the life-or-death emergency service. If you’re making a non-emergency urgent travel appointment, you’ll need to do so at a passport agency or headquarters. However, appointment slots are limited. Again, urgent appointments are only possible within three days of your international trip and you can only book the appointment within two weeks of when you plan to travel.

Planning Ahead For Next Time

Getting an expedited or urgent passport is possible in a pinch, but it’s a hassle that comes with no guarantees. While it’s an option available to you, urgent appointments should only be used as a last resort. And you shouldn’t feel overly comfortable relying on this last-minute maneuver. For one thing, there’s no way of knowing if you’ll be cleared until you’re already at your appointment.

Because it’s a first-come, first-serve system (and you can’t make arrangements until two weeks before you’re travel), getting an urgent passport appointment on time can be tricky, and sometimes, impossible.

Whether or not you qualify for an urgent passport will be decided on the spot (and within the designated two days before you are set to travel). Not knowing if you’ll receive your passport until the very last minute can be an incredibly nerve-wracking experience, especially if all other travel arrangements are in order (and fully paid for.)

female traveler watching plane fly over water overhead

Once you have your passport, it will be valid for 10 years. But moving forward, give yourself plenty of time to secure everything you’ll need to travel internationally. For more information, all phone numbers and details regarding the required documentation and designated locations can be found on the State Department website. Safe travels.

Read More: Safety Tips You Should Always Remember While Traveling

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