Some 87 million people need to renew their passports this year, so the whole process could take way longer.
Think you don’t need to apply for a new passport until your existing one is six months from expiring? Think again. The State Department has just advised travelers whose passports expire any time in 2016 or 2017 to get a jump on the process, as there’s soon to be a backlog in renewal requests.
The uptick in requests comes as a consequence to two things: the REAL ID act, which requires travelers from 25 U.S. states and territories to use a passport for domestic flights, and the enormous number of citizens who signed up for a passport in 2006 or 2007, when the government enacted the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. (The Initiative kicked off a new mandate requiring travelers to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda to have a valid passport.)
According to the most recent statistics from the State Department that were released in 2014, only 46 percent of Americans hold valid passports. Given that the REAL ID act impacts half of the U.S. states, it’s reasonable to think that 27 percent of Americans—half of those currently without passports—will consider signing up for one before October 10, when Federal agencies will no longer accept their driver’s licenses. That’s roughly 87 million potential new applicants—without considering how many people will be up for renewal. (Don't worry: the State Department is expecting the turnout to be much lower, at around 17 million.)
If you’re smart, you’ll get your paperwork taken care of before March rolls around; it’s the busiest month for passport renewals all year, according to data from the U.S. Department of State. Last year, 1.5 million Americans chose that month to renew, while in November, the number dropped as low as 713,000. Backlog, indeed.