If you have a U.S. passport expiring any time in 2016, the State Department has a message for you: Renew it now.
The department anticipates a surge in passport demand throughout this year, and officials hope to avoid a crush that could leave some Americans fuming in frustration with no passport in hand on the day they planned to travel outside the country.
Officials are expecting a flood of renewals of 10-year passports issued in 2006 and 2007. The latter was the year when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, for the first time requiring passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. As millions of citizens scrambled to apply for their first passports, backlogs swelled and many were stranded.
“We were overwhelmed then, and we are not going to be overwhelmed again,” said Michele Bond, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who oversees passports. She has been on a campaign to cajole Americans into renewing early.
There has also been an uptick, officials said, in first-time applications from Americans in states that have not yet complied with the Real ID Act, which sets stricter standards for driver’s licenses and other identity cards. Many people seem to have a mistaken belief that a deadline is imminent after which they will not be able to present licenses from those states for flights within the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security recently clarified the deadline: Jan. 22, 2018. As of that date, residents of states that still have not complied with Real ID will have to show an alternative, approved form of identification, such as a passport. North Carolina is among the states that have been granted the extension.
For now there is no hurry for travelers in the five states and a territory that have not complied so far – Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and American Samoa – if they are not planning to go abroad. But some are rushing to get passports anyway (travel.state.gov), adding to congestion in the system.
State Department officials say another reason to renew soon is that many countries are now enforcing a requirement for at least six months’ validity on a U.S. passport. The department has experienced an increase in frantic calls from Americans who were denied entry at foreign airports and borders because their passports had less than six months to go.
Officials said they expected to issue more than 17 million new passports and renewals this year, about 1.5 million more than in 2015. Those seeking a passport for the first time must submit the application in person at a designated post office, court or other agency, and the fee is $135. Renewals will take about six weeks in 2016, up from four weeks last year. Most Americans can renew passports by mail, for a fee of $110.