What’s the best time to apply for a passport? Right now. The least busy time in the passport office is between October 26th and November 30th. And, for the first time, the US State Department is offering free faster processing to anyone who applies for a passport through the end of November. This applies to both newly issued and renewal passports. Due to security requirements, the State Department can’t easily add seasonal staff in the same way as private businesses. So by offering faster processing, my guess is that they hope giving people an incentive to renew early will nudge them to renew off-peak.
What do faster processing times mean in practice? The State Department advertises 4-5 week turnaround for regular passport applications, and 2-3 week turnaround for expedited passport applications (which cost an extra $60). Anecdotally, it can be much faster if you apply off-peak. The State Department processes applications in the order and priority received, and if there isn’t a long line ahead of you, you could see your passport in as little as a week or two. They won’t advertise or promise this, and you shouldn’t count on it, but it can and does happen.
Renewal tips from Seat 31B:
- You don’t have to wait for your passport to expire to apply for a new one.
- Many countries won’t let you in if your passport expires within 6 months of your arrival! Consider your passport expired 6 months before the actual expiration date.
- If you travel frequently, ask for a passport with extra pages.
- Ordinary passport renewals come with 24 pages. You can get a 48-page passport at no additional charge upon request.
- Don’t pay for expedited service unless it’s an emergency, and you’re applying in person at a US Passport Agency for travel within the next 2 weeks.
- This time of year expedited service is a waste of money–except for emergency rush applications–because ordinary applications are processed in an expedited time frame anyway.