If you want to travel internationally, you'll need a passport, and applying for one can be an exciting yet frustrating experience. Most frustrating of all? The waiting.
As of 2018, the U.S. government is processing passport applications between four to six weeks after you've sent off your details, including mailing times. If possible, apply for your passport in low seasons for travel, like fall and mid-winter. The worst time of year to apply is during March or April, where most people are making their summer vacation plans and then applying for passports. Summer itself, too, can have delayed processing times.
It's worth knowing that in life-and-death circumstances—such as serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family that require you to travel abroad within three business days—you can apply for an emergency passport. You'll need to have numerous documents in-hand, such as a death certificate (potentially translated into English), a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional. These passport applications require an appointment with the U.S. Department of State.
Expedited Passport Processing Time
As of 2018, the government is processing requests for expedited passports in eight business days if you go through an agent. This means that you'll actually have to wait three weeks for door-to-door processing, and that's if you request overnight delivery and pay for overnight delivery both ways (to and from the passport agency).
So how does the expedited passport process work?
If you can prove that you'll be heading abroad and need a passport to do so, you'll be able to head to your nearest passport office and ask to rush the process. In this case, proof means that you've already booked your flights and accommodation for your trip. There is an additional fee of $60 for expedited passports.
More information: How to Get an Expedited Passport
A final note: when you're figuring out how long it is going to take to get a passport, bear in mind that passport cards cannot be shipped using overnight delivery—they're always shipped out to you using regular first class mail.
Already Applied for a Passport? How to Check Your Status Online
It generally takes between seven and 10 days for your passport application to be trackable online. It could, however, be a little shorter if you paid for expedited service and sent your application by overnight delivery.
Checking your passport status online is quick and simple. Fun fact: in the past, you would have to just ship everything off and hope for the best (which usually, in all fairness, did happen).
You can gauge your application's progress by looking online at the Department of State's website. Be prepared to enter the following information:
- Your last name, including suffixes without punctuation except the hyphen (some examples: Smith III, Crislip Jr, Jones-Smith)
- Your date of birth in the following format: MM/DD/YYYY
- The last four digits of your Social Security Number
Check Your Passport Application Status by Phone
You can also check your U.S. passport application status by phone between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m., Monday-Friday and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (excluding federal holidays). The Department of State says the best time to call is between 8:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. EST. Use one of these phone numbers:
- 1-888-874-7793 for anyone who has impaired hearing
As a final note, be aware that all passport fees are non-refundable.
This post has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.