US Opening Up Online Passport Renewals This Month, Will Become Permanent Option Next Year

Passport applications in the U.S. are needlessly cumbersome, involving lots of paper and the U.S. mail or getting an in-person appointment. Children under 16 actually have to appear in-person, and their passports are valid for just 5 years instead of 10.

That’s annoying, but the bigger problem is how long it can take to get a passport processed. There shouldn’t be a need to pay an extra ‘expedite’ fee to get the passport in weeks. That’s not expeditious.

Routine passport service, which once took as little as six weeks, is currently estimated to take between seven and 10 weeks. Expedited service, which costs an additional $60, and before the pandemic would have taken up to three weeks, is now estimated to take between four and six weeks.

Government failure to process leaves many people in need of ‘last minute’ appointments in the days (not hours) leading up to a trip.

  • So a grey market in bots booking up and reselling the appointments develops
  • And then the government takes those appointments offline to prevent reselling, but that still doesn’t help people get their passports quicker.

Some progress may be on the way making it faster to submit passport renewals – moving those to an optional online system, which saves time in the mail and also should save time waiting for data to be entered upon receipt.

The State Department trialed an online renewal system for government employees. It was also available to ‘friends and family’ of government employees. And they weren’t verifying your actual friend status – so a number of readers used the trial to renew their passports more easily.

From there they’ve continued to make the feature available

  • A public trial for 25,000 people ran August 2 – 12
  • A third trial will run starting in the back half of September
  • And a new system should go live in 2023

Eligibility to renew online:

  • You must have no more than a year left on your current passport, and if your passport is expired it can’t have been issued more than 15 years ago (so expired for 5 years)
  • You must be 25 years or older and not changing your name or gender on your passport
  • You must live in the United States
  • And your current passport cannot be lost or damaged (although since you’re not sending in your current passport, I’m unclear how they’d know it’s damaged, that just can’t be the reason for replacement – see expiration period above).

There’s one warning in all of this though. With online renewal you do not mail in your current passport (and therefore don’t get it mailed back to you). However your current passport is supposed to become invalid as soon as you hit submit on an online renewal application.

(HT: @crucker)

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