Beating the passport renewal rush

If your United States passport was issued in 2006 or 2007, it may be a good idea to think about renewing it sooner rather than later to beat the upcoming renewal rush.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, went into effect on Jan. 23, 2007 and required a passport to travel between countries in the Western Hemisphere where, in many cases, other proof of citizenship or even verbal declarations had been accepted previously.

As a result, millions of citizens who had never before needed a passport for travel between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico suddenly needed to obtain one.

By the numbers

In 2004, 8.8 million U.S. passports were issued. That number increased to 10.1 million in 2005, then jumped to 12.1 million in 2006 and leaped to 18.4 million in 2007. In some circles, the sudden increase was called The Great Passport Disaster. Literally more than doubling the workload from 2004 to 2007 caused extensive delays affecting millions of travelers.

Now, as we approach the end of the 10-year validity period for those documents, the State Department is bracing for a tsunami of passport renewal applications; the "echo" of The Great Passport Disaster.

The chart at left shows how quickly passport issuance has increased.

During the late fall season, the State Department's website noted that the average renewal time was four to five weeks. My personal experience was that State was a bit quicker than that, but nothing is guaranteed and even State expects processing times to increase as we head into the winter travel season.

Best to get ahead of the curve and, if your passport expires in 2006 or 2007, renew as soon as practical for your circumstances.

While U.S. passports have a validity period of ten years, their practical usefulness is somewhat shorter than that, as many countries require that a passport be valid between 90 days and six months after the anticipated departure from the host country. That means the document is useful for between nine and a half years and nine years, nine months at the most.

Considering that a passport renewal currently costs $110, or $11 per year, the actual cost of renewing it a year earlier than absolutely necessary is minimal and enduring a shorter delay could well be worth the modest additional expense.

Bottom line: if your passport was issued in 2006 or 2007, consider renewing in early to avoid being caught up in The Great Passport Disaster: The Sequel.

Or be prepared to be patient and wait.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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