The U.S. State Department says it's already time to start thinking about your winter holiday plans, especially if they include international travel.
"Applying in the fall or winter allows for faster routine processing due to lower seasonal demand," according to a recent release from the department. "Travelers should plan ahead and apply for their passports early to avoid the stress and extra cost for expedited processing. With timely effort, applicants also avoid the need for last-minute appointments at regional passport agencies, which become increasingly difficult to obtain when demand is high."
Average wait times, however, are still longer than pre-pandemic averages.
Before March 2020, standard processing times took between five to seven weeks and two to three weeks for expedited applications. Now, the State Department says travelers can expect a wait of eight to 10 weeks for regular service and four to six weeks if they fast-track their request, which requires having a trip planned to a foreign country within 14 days and paying an extra $60 fee.
A valid passport that does not expire within six months is required for entry in most countries. The State Department currently has completed two phases of a pilot program for online renewal, with a third scheduled to open next month.
The online renewal option is expected to be accessible to most Americans beginning in early 2023.
The new program was developed as a result of an executive order issued by President Biden in late 2021 that instructed agencies to cut down on bureaucratic hurdles to access government services, reducing the "time tax" Americans pay while navigating outdated systems.
"Every interaction between the Federal Government and the public, whether it involves renewing a passport or calling for a status update on a farm loan application, should be seen as an opportunity for the Government to save an individual’s time," the order says.
While it’s still unclear whether the order will reduce total wait times for passport renewals, the online process would save applicants a trip to their local passport office or from having to print, complete and mail hard copies of their documents.