Travelers rejoice: Online passport renewal will be rolling out for most Americans next year.
The U.S. State Department tested online renewal with two pilot programs this year—one for federal employees and contractors, and another for 25,000 members of the public—and has deemed those trials a success, the New York Times’ Debra Kamin reports. A third pilot program will begin later this month, but officials intend to make the option available to all travelers sometime in early 2023.
The online renewal option comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s December 2021 executive order directing the federal government to implement services that are “simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent and responsive for all people.”
As it stands now, the passport renewal process is cumbersome and time-consuming. Many travelers can request renewal by mail, but they must still print, fill out and submit several documents; print photographs that meet very specific sizing and resolution requirements; and send a check or money order to cover the cost.
For some individuals, however, even the mail-in method isn’t an option. Those travelers—including first-time applicants, people under the age of 16 and those whose passports were lost or stolen—must wait in long lines at passport offices.
State Department officials hope online renewal will help ease long wait times, which have become the norm since the start of the pandemic because of layoffs and passport office closures. Though processing times are starting to get faster, federal officials are still working through a hefty backlog.
“As with many services, our passport operations are still recovering from the pandemic’s impact,” Rena Bitter, assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department, tells the Washington Post’s Natalie B. Compton.
Still, strict rules limit who can renew their passport online: Applicants must be at least 25 years old, for instance, and their passport must have been issued between 9 and 15 years ago—and the online process involves multiple, at-times confusing steps.
“[A]s it’s designed right now, it’s a little bit clunky,” says Anthony Berklich, a travel adviser and founder of the travel platform Inspired Citizen, to the New York Times.
The renewal fee is not any cheaper online—it’s still $130 for adults and $135 for children—and at least for now, the processing time is not any faster than renewing by mail.
Kendry Dupree, a travel agent for Allure Vacations, tells USA Today’s Kathleen Wong that online renewal is still “better for the American travelers,” adding that it “reduces the hassle” inherent in traditional renewal methods.
But federal officials hope the new system will eventually streamline the process—and, ideally, shorten wait times. The State Department is also holding a series of passport fairs around the country, primarily to help first-timers and children get their passports.