While Brits and those from Europe as well as other countries are often amazed by just how few people in the United States have valid passports when nearly everyone, especially in the UK and Europe, has had one for as long as they can remember. The United States is planning a number of changes to the physical passport as well as passport policy. If you’re going to need a renewal soon, you’re better to do it sooner rather than later and here are few of things you should be aware of going forward.
2007 policy means that nearly 50 million will need theirs renewed in the coming years
U.S. passport ownership was scary low for many years especially given that you didn’t need one to travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean. While passport ownership is still quite low, the number of holders went up exponentially in 2007 when the 9/11 commission made passports necessary for those traveling to resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. That change in policy saw nearly 50 million people apply for first-time passports and given that they expire in ten years, that massive number will need new passports starting next year in addition to longer holders of passports. The State Department is already experiencing a backlog in applications, and the wait will only get longer, well, the longer you wait.
Presently, the State Department is issuing renewals with a backlog of six weeks. While there are some companies that can expedite this process, they don’t come cheap. It should also be noted that depending on the country; you may not be granted a visa based on the age of your passport. Some Asian countries require that your passport is at least six months old or they won’t let you enter.
Passage of Real ID isn’t helping as more will need a passport even for domestic travel
The majority of holders of a valid passport have the addition of a chip given at change nearly a decade ago. The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, will start seeing enforcement next year and absolute adherence in 2020 as some states have received extensions for compliance. The Act dictates that all those boarding a flight will need a state ID with a chip in it. The problem for many, however, is that a few states have not had the money to make the stitch and comply with REAL ID. If you’re from one of these states: Missouri, Washington, Maine and others, you won’t be able to fly domestically and will need a chipped passport.
For those that are concerned with privacy, you’re not going to love the physical changes coming to the United States passports. The data chip will contain a lot more information about you as its scanned through a computer. For those that are scared of terrorism, this might be a plus as the chip will make fraudulent passports considerably more difficult to obtain. For frequent international travelers, you’ll want to make sure that you’re requesting the 52-page passports issued in years past as the State Department plans to reduce the page count to 28. Presumably, this is being done so that you’re forced to pay for new pages or get a new passport more often, so make sure when applying or renewing to request the 52-page passport.
Children’s passports are issued for five years rather than the parents’ ten years. If everyone in your family applied at the same time, your kid’s passport could already be expired even though yours remains valid. They also require more time to process as there is more paperwork involved.
You’re no longer allowed to wear glasses in a passport photo so if you have extra photos lying around with you in specs, don’t wait in line at a post office or other renewal center only to be sent away because of your picture.