US passports are valid for 10 years from the date they are issued, so it seems logical to assume that you should renew your passport for two or three months before it expires. But the reality is that you may need to start the renewal process at least eight months before your passport's expiration date, depending on your destination.
There's also the COVID-19 pandemic to take into consideration, too. As of August 2020, you can expect major delays in passport processing, meaning you should actually renew your passport even earlier—at least a year before its expiration date.
Expiration Dates Are Critical
If you are considering a vacation abroad, you should be aware that many countries will not allow you to cross their borders—or even board an airplane to fly there—unless your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended date of departure. Others, including the 26 European nations that participate in the Schengen Accord, have shorter requirements, mandating that your passport be valid for at least three months past your date of departure. A few countries have a one-month validity requirement, while others have no validity restrictions at all (other than it being valid during your stay, of course). Before your trip, be sure to verify the passport validity requirements of your country, lest you show up at the border and get sent back home. It's a safe rule of thumb to always ensure you have at least six months of validity past your intended departure date from your destination, no matter where you travel.
How Long Does It Take to Get a New Passport?
According to the US Department of State, it typically takes four to six weeks to process an application for a new passport or passport renewal, or two to three if you pay for expedited processing and overnight delivery of your application and new passport. In very specific circumstances, you can even get a passport within a day if you visit a passport center in person; there are 26 regional passport centers and agencies across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has delayed the process. While the State Department has not released official timelines for standard passport renewals during the pandemic, the process reportedly could take several months or longer.
Also, processing times vary by time of year. In general, it takes longer to get a passport in the spring and summer. You can find current passport processing time estimates on the State Department's website.
In addition, you will need to allow extra time before your departure date to obtain any necessary travel visas. To apply for a travel visa, you will need to send your passport with your visa application and wait for your visa to be processed.
Renewing Your Passport During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many passport offices across the country are either closed or operating at reduced capacity. Passport renewals are severely delayed, so it may take several months for your passport to be renewed at this time. In addition, the State Department is not currently expediting renewals, except for travelers with a life-or-death situation (i.e., an illness, injury, or death in your immediate family that requires international travel within 72 hours). In that instance, you must make an appointment at a passport center or agency to renew your passport in person. If you need to renew your passport for any other reason, you are advised to do so by mail.
The US Department of State has a three-phase program to restore full passport center operations:
- Phase One: Limited staff returns to the office to handle in-person appointments for life-or-death situations.
- Phase Two: Additional staff returns to the office to begin processing the backlog of general renewal applications, but appointments are still reserved for life-or-death situations.
- Phase Three: All staff returns to the office, and appointments are opened to those traveling within two weeks.
As of July 27, 2020, 10 sites are in Phase One and six are in Phase Two, while the rest are closed. You can check the status of your nearest passport center or agency on the State Department's website.
Seven to 10 business days after you've applied for a passport renewal, you can check the progress of your application online or via phone (1-877-487-2778). Centers that are not in Phase Three will only be able to provide one of three status indicators: in process, approved, and mailed. Once a center reaches Phase Three, you may be able to access that information.
Given the pandemic-related delays, we suggest that you renew your passport at least a year before its expiration date. We also anticipate a surge in renewals—and therefore more processing delays—when travel opens up in the future, so it's best to get ahead now.
How to Determine Country-By-Country Entry Requirements
If you are planning to travel abroad, check to see if your destination country has specific requirements for passport validity by checking the lists below. You can also look at your State Department or Foreign Office's website for up-to-date entry requirements for each country you plan to visit.
Countries Requiring a US Passport Valid for at Least Six Months After Entry:
- Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Ecuador (including the Galápagos Islands)
- Macau Special Administrative Region
- New Caledonia
- Nicaragua (currently waived by bilateral agreement)**
- Papua New Guinea
- Russian Federation
- Saudi Arabia
- San Marino
- South Sudan
- Timor-Leste (East Timor)
Countries Requiring a US Passport Valid for at Least Three Months After Entry:
Visitors to the Schengen area in Europe should be sure their passports are valid for at least six months beyond their date of entry, according to the US Department of State; some Schengen countries assume that all visitors will stay in the Schengen area for three months and will deny entry to travelers whose passports are not valid for six months beyond their entry date. This may apply to you even if you are merely transiting through a Schengen country.
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Denmark (including the Faroe Islands and Greenland)
- French Guiana
- French Polynesia
- Vatican City (Holy See)
Countries Requiring a US Passport Valid for at Least One Month After Entry:
- Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
- South Africa
*It is airlines, not the government of Israel, that enforce the six-month validity rule, according to the US Department of State. Travelers should be aware that they may not be allowed to board their flight to Israel if their passports will expire less than six months from their date of entry into Israel.
**Visitors to Nicaragua should be sure their passport will be valid for the entire length of their planned stay, plus a few days for emergency-related delays.