Americans have applied for passports en masse this year—more than 21 million new little blue books were projected, says the State Department—and the number is expected to match that in 2018.
Why the rush? A lot of passports were up for renewal: Remember in 2007, how the government told us we needed passports or passport cards to visit Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean? Those only have a shelf life of ten years, which brings us to…now. Add to that the number of Americans who’ll need passports to fly across the U.S. because of the Real ID Act. (More on that a minute.)
So what do you need to know in order to leave the country in 2018?
You can renew online! Eventually…
The passport renewal process is getting an overhaul: Starting mid-2018, a new platform will let you renew your passport online, says Carl Siegmund, community relations officer for passport services at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. This could mean the end of those late-night trips to Walgreens photo booths to rush off your application the next morning. “We’ve got to be future-focused,” Siegmund said during a digital government symposium in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to move from paper to digital.”
Status updates will come by text
If you want to check how far along your passport is in the application or renewal process, you have to pull the update from the State Department’s website—a time-consuming process, and not an easy one if you’re on the road, say, and on a mobile device. (You could also phone the passport services center to check the status, but you wouldn’t be alone—1.4 million calls were received in 2016 alone.) In 2018, this will change: According to Siegmund, status updates will come via email or SMS to keep applicants up to date on applications.
You may need a passport to fly domestically
What? Yeah. Effective January 22, 2018, air travelers with a driver’s license that doesn’t meet REAL ID Act requirements have to use an alternative form of ID in order to board a domestic flight. The good news: A U.S. passport card and passport book are both acceptable forms of ID. The bad news: If you don’t have either and you’re from a state that hasn’t been given an extension, you’d better get a passport, like, now. (You can check the compliance status of your state here.) Which brings us to our next point…
Passports could take longer to process
As previously reported by Traveler, a rush of passport applications are expected to hit the system—and clog it up—come January. Though routine passport applications typically take 4-6 weeks, expect your application to take closer to six weeks if you decide to wait until the new year to renew. There’s good news, though…
There are options for procrastinators
In addition to the option to apply by mail, this winter, the U.S. government started holding special passport fairs to help some applicants—generally, children and first-timers—avoid the rush. Events are added every Monday, and can be found here, grouped by state. Still in a pinch? You can always get your passport in 24 hours.