Although traveling abroad may seem like a distant fantasy, it is still possible to get your travel documents organized while you plan your dream vacation. Since returning to the United States from Colombia in early December, one of my first orders of business was renewing my passport.
As an American citizen, it is possible to get your passport renewed abroad, but the Embassy in Colombia had very limited appointments and a processing time of at least a month. Because my passport was my only valid form of ID, I returned to my hometown in the US to continue with the process and apply for a new visa and travel abroad once again. While I thought things would be much smoother in the United States, because of COVID-19 restrictions and the holidays, I learned some important lessons about the passport renewal process. Let me share them here, so you don’t make the same mistakes as I did!
Always Be Aware of When Your Passport Expires and if You Have Enough Unstamped Pages
As a frequent traveler, I often admired the collection of stamps and visas that gave life to my passport.
However, when going to apply for my last visa in Colombia, I was surprised to see I didn’t even have a full page for a visa.
Always make sure you know when your passport expires and if you have enough pages to put your visa, so you are not left scrambling at the last minute.
Opt for a Large Book Passport
For those who travel frequently or need to do yearly visa application renewals, I suggest selecting the large passport book which has 52 pages with 44 pages for passport stamps as opposed to the standard book with has 28 pages and 20 for stamps. As someone who travels (correction, traveled*) often, I ran out of space in my passport book with 4 years before it was actually set to expire! Most countries offer its citizens extended passports.
Expedite Your Passport
Even with the expedited passport option processing times are anywhere between 4-6 weeks from start to finish with normal processing times up to 12 weeks. I strongly advise to select the expedited option even if you don’t have immediate travel plans because processing times have been so slow. You can check the United States’ official passport page for all processing fees. Where to apply depends on when you need your passport, and I suggest checking here for a full list of processing offices around the United States.
Make Sure Your Passport Arrives at the Processing Center
It is possible to renew your passport by mail if you meet these requirements.
If not, you can follow the apply in person steps to apply. Because the US postal service is overwhelmed with a high volume of mail and packages, I encourage anyone sending off a passport to pay for priority overnight shipping.
That way, your passport can arrive and get into the system as fast as possible.
Plan Ahead and Be Patient
Throughout this process, I had to remind myself to be patient. The holidays, compounded by the global pandemic, have slowed the passport renewal process down. Allow yourself time to wait in line, double-check you have filled out your application correctly, and know that the minimum time to receive a passport is four weeks.
While it may just feel like a slow waiting game, this time also allowed me to organize my visa application documents and to daydream about the future places I will go. Hang in there! Soon, we will travel again and explore all of those places we dreamed of going to in 2020. Where will you land?
by: Erin Colton