Procrastinators, beware. If you’re planning an international trip this spring or summer, it’s time to get your passport sorted out. As of now, the turnaround time for a standard passport renewal currently can take eight to 11 weeks, according to the State Department website. For $60 more, an expedited renewal application can take five to seven weeks.
That’s a lot faster than during the first summer of the pandemic, when many travelers were waiting up to 18 weeks. But the process takes longer now than it did before the arrival of Covid-19. In 2019, passport renewals took six to eight weeks for standard service and expedited service often delivered the little blue book in as little as two weeks.
Last year, the State Department processed a record 21,995,760 passports — nearly twice the number it did in 2020 or 2021 and also more than in the pre-pandemic years. The number of passports issued in 2022 was up more than 67% compared to a decade earlier.
Much of the current backlog can be chalked up to an unprecedented demand by American travelers for international trips. “As Americans are traveling internationally again, we are seeing unprecedented demand for passports,” a State Department official told Forbes. “In fiscal year 2022, we issued more passports than ever before, and we are on track to break that record again for fiscal year 2023.”
The country’s largest travel agencies are seeing the same trend. “2023 is coming on strong,” says Misty Belles, vice president of global public relations for Virtuoso, whose 20,000 travel advisors make up the world’s largest luxury travel network. “International hotel bookings for the first quarter of 2023 are already up 24% over first quarter 2022.”
“We saw demand for international travel more than double from 2019 to 2022,” says James Ferrara, president and co-founder of InteleTravel, an online travel agency with a network of over 70,000 independent travel advisors across the U.S., U.K., Mexico, and Caribbean. “In the first two months of 2023, international travel is up 35% over 2022.”
These reports align with a recent poll by tourism market research firm Destination Analysts, which found that a third of U.S. travelers are likely to take at least one international trip this year.
Airbnb, too, says it is seeing an increased interest in international travel this spring, with a list of top trending destinations that includes Rome, London, Porto and Barcelona as well as Seoul, South Korea.
InteleTravel’s Ferrara points to multiple factors driving Americans’ desire to travel out of the country. “In addition to the natural growth trajectory of the industry and the travel habits of younger generations,” he says, “this was fueled by the pandemic and its recovery, pent up demand, unspent travel dollars, bucket-list mentality, and the return of cruise and business travel.”
Currently, renewing a U.S. passport can only be done in person or by mail. Earlier this month, the government temporarily paused its online passport renewal program, which the Biden administration heralded in December 2021 as part of a revamp of USA.gov, the official site for federal government services.
In February 2022, the State Department launched the online passport renewal portal in a limited capacity for federal government employees and contractors. Six months later, the program was opened to the public. More than 500,000 citizens successfully submitted an application online, according to the department official.
Suspending the online renewal portal gives the department the opportunity to “continue to make improvements to the customer experience,” says the official, who notes that the program will be back online later in 2023.