Many are asking if you can obtain or renew your passport during the pandemic. The answer is yes, and here is what you need to know. All applications and renewals were suspended for the first several months of the pandemic, but as of late August, many offices are partially reopened so that the State Department can resume its work.
Passport offices are coming back to work in three phases. Currently, there are nine passport agencies and centers in Phase 2 and twelve in Phase 1. There are none in Phase 3, and there is no timeline for when any will be.
Phase 1: limited staffing; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis; in-person appointments for life-and-death emergencies only; applicants are advised to wait to submit.
Phase 2: additional staffing; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis; in-person appointments for life-and-death emergencies only.
Phase 3: all staff return; limited appointments for those traveling within two weeks; applications processed on a first-in, first-out basis.
This means that, as of right now, you can only mail in your documents or drop them at an acceptance facility. Make sure you have all the required paperwork, documents, photos, and fees, whether you are applying for a renewal or a new passport.
It is not clear right now about how long you will have to wait, but you can expect long delays. Passports can only be expedited for life or death emergencies, defined by the State Department as “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours (3 business days).” No other expedited services are available, so there is no fast track for anyone. The official expedited service will only resume in Phase 3 of the passport agencies’ reopening plan. Using a third-party expediting service will not help either since the State Department’s official expedited fast track department is shut down for now.
Should you submit your application now, or wait until Phase 3 so you can expedite? If your passport has expired or is about to, it’s a good idea to send in your renewal packet now and claim your spot. We’ve heard varying reports from travelers who’ve submitted their applications, and the return times vary greatly. You could get lucky. As for waiting until Phase 3 and then expediting, it’s a gamble. There is no announced timeline for when this service will become available again, or when passport centers will move into Phase 3. One advantage of submitting your renewal now is that it could bump your application up to expedited status once that becomes available again.You can watch the official website, and when you see Phase 3 announced, call the National Passport Office at 1-877-487-2778 and, if the option is available, a representative can take your credit card info. You can always check your status online or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.