Travelers rejoice: Online passport renewal will be rolled out to most Americans next year.
The US State Department this year tested online renewal with two pilot programs — one for federal employees and contractors and another for 25,000 members of the public — and has called those trials a success New York Timessays Debra Kamin. A third pilot program will begin later this month, but officials aim to make the option available to all travelers sometime in early 2023.
The online renewal option follows President Joe Biden’s December 2021 executive order directing the federal government to implement services that are “easy to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent, and responsive to all people.”
As it stands now, the passport renewal process is cumbersome and time-consuming. Many travelers can apply for an extension by mail, but still need to print, fill out, and submit several documents; Printing photos that meet very specific size and resolution requirements; and send a check or money order to cover the cost.
However, for some individuals, even the mail-in method is not an option. These travelers — including first-time applicants, those under the age of 16 and those whose passports have been lost or stolen — have to wait in long lines outside passport offices.
State Department officials hope the online renewal will help reduce long waits, which have become the norm since the pandemic began due to layoffs and passport office closures. Although processing times are accelerating, federal officials are still working on a significant backlog.
“As with many services, our passport operations are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic,” said Rena Bitter, assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department Washington Post’s Natalie B. Compton.
Still, strict rules restrict who can renew their passport online: for example, applicants must be at least 25 years old and their passport must have been issued 9 to 15 years ago — and the online process involves several, sometimes confusing, steps.
“[A]Now that it’s designed like that, it’s a bit clunky,” says Anthony Berklich, travel consultant and founder of travel platform Inspired Citizen New York Times.
The renewal fee isn’t any cheaper online — it’s still $130 for adults and $135 for children — and for now, at least, the turnaround time isn’t any quicker than a mail-in renewal.
Kendry Dupree, a travel agent for Allure Vacations, narrates United States today‘s Kathleen Wong that online renewal is still “better for American travelers,” adding that it “reduces the hassle” inherent in traditional renewal methods.
But federal officials are hoping the new system will ultimately streamline the process — and ideally, reduce wait times. The State Department also holds a series of passport fairs across the country, mainly to help first-time visitors and children get their passports.