It's a waiting game that has travelers across the U.S. on edge.
"We're waiting and we're waiting and we're waiting and we're waiting. And we're like, are we going to have to do a backup trip? Are we going to have to cancel the trip?" Angie Licea said.
Passport processing delays continue to climb, leaving Americans scrambling to secure documentation for international travel. It's the post-COVID paperwork storm the U.S. State Department is struggling to rein in with understaffed teams as more Americans look to go abroad. So just how bad is the situation? As of July, the department says it is receiving roughly 400,000 passport applications each week, and it's already on track to break its record of 22 million passports issued in 2022.
"Plan ahead, you have to plan ahead," Licea said.
Angie Licea is the president of the Global Travel Collection, an assortment of international luxury travel businesses.
She says applying for or renewing a passport is now something travelers need to be thinking about a year in advance.
"Don't think that you could go down to the passport office in every city and think you're going to get your passport back in two weeks. It's not going to happen. You should be knowing that your passport is going to expire at least a year in advance and planning. You should, if it's six months, you should already be sending it in for renewal," Licea said.
And a lack of advance planning could leave travelers with more than just a missed flight.
"What is your cancellation? So, what does it take to get out of that trip? Did you purchase insurance, and did that insurance cover something like that? You know, how flexible is the partners that you've chosen to work with in this type of scenario? Do your research," Licea said.
According to the State Department's website, routine passport processing times are currently ranging between 10 and 13 weeks. Expedited will take 7 to 9 weeks, plus an extra fee of $60. And urgent requests require appointments at passport processing centers that must be scheduled within 14 days of your international travel date. In the case of emergency travel, you may be able to get it in 3 business days, but you will need to prove that the travel qualifies as life or death. Overall, there is no guarantee you won't find yourself waiting longer for any of these categories.
"It definitely can be frustrating right now, but I think I've done everything I can," Jordan Rudisill, a traveler, said.
Frustrated by a lack of communication from the processing centers, some travelers are hitting the road to find answers. Others are waiting until next year to try their luck with travel.
"I can use myself as a perfect example. I need to get a passport for my son, who's under two years old. And so, we're actually going to plan our international trip for early 2024, just to make sure that there's no pressure. We're going to get the passport in time, and our vacation plans won't be impacted," Stefanie Schmudde said.
Stefanie Schmudde is the vice president of product development and operations at Abercrombie & Kent, an over 60-year-old international travel agency.
Schmudde says processing delays stateside aren't the only thing you should be keeping in mind.
"The majority of countries do require that passports have a validity of six months post-travel. So, we want to make sure that that's really top of mind when you're planning your travel," Schmudde said.
Despite the delays, travel advisors say people should try not to feel too discouraged as they await their passports. Instead, they should keep their eyes on the horizons they are chasing.
"I think if the pandemic taught us anything, it's that you can't take things for granted. And if there's something that you want to do is, you know, go out and do it," Schmudde said.
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