If you want to travel, you'll need a passport, and applying for yours can be an exciting yet frustrating experience. And most frustrating of all? The waiting.
As of 2017, 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, I recommend applying 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.
It's worth knowing that you can occasionally receive your passport as soon as the same day you apply if you are traveling out of the country within fourteen days and can prove it. I don't recommend leaving it this late to apply, as you're running the risk your application will be denied and you'll lose all of the money you've spent on booking your trip.
If you're disappointed to hear how long it'll take to receive your passport, keep in mind that it could be worse. Ten years ago, U.S. citizens used to be able to travel to both Mexico and Canada without needing a passport. As long as you had your ID with you, you could happily cross the borders of both countries without a problem.
Guess what happened when that luxury ended? There was suddenly an enormous rush for passports.
At one point, there was a backlog of three million passport applications and an average wait time of a whopping three months.
What's also worth keeping in mind is that it's now 2017, which means all of these passports are now going to start expiring. There could indeed be a repeat of the challenges of 2007, so needless to say, if you're going to apply for a passport this year, do it as soon as possible.
Expedited Passport Processing Time
As of 2016, 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. Proof in this case means that you've already booked your flights and accommodation for your trip.
As I mentioned above, there's an inherent risk that you'll end up out of pocket in this case, but there are ways to ensure you won't lose all of your money if you're rejected. Look for flights that allow you to purchase insurance that ensures you can cancel your flight and receive your money back (excluding the insurance fee), and do exactly the same for accommodation -- there are plenty of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb apartments that will refund the full amount of your booking as close as 24 hours before your arrival date.
I had to expedite my passport once, and I received my passport that exact same day, although the office also offered to mail it to me at my home. Generally, the passport office will mail your passport out to you the same day as it's approved, which is good to know if you live far from a passport office.
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 US Passport Application Status by Phone
You can also check your U.S. passport application status by phone between 6 a.m. - 12 midnight 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
This post has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.