The U.S. State Department seems to be having a crisis of sorts—the wait for passport renewals and applications rises by the week.
Two weeks ago, we warned you about a processing meltdown that was causing waits of 8–11 weeks for standard applications and 5–7 weeks for "expedited" handling.
Turns out those were the good old days.
The State Department has now issued revised wait times for passport applications. As of March 24, the wait is 10–13 weeks for a regular application and 7–9 weeks even if you pay $60 for expedited handling.
U.S. passport handling has gotten a lot like flying on U.S. airlines: There's not much difference between classes anymore because they all stink.
"Processing times are cyclical and rise and fall based on seasonal demand," the State Department said in lieu of an apology in the announcement. "However, the volume of applications we have received during periods this year has outpaced records set by last year’s volume by more than 30 percent."
How early should you apply for a passport now?
The prognosis is so dreadful that in order to avoid getting caught in the backlog, I advise travelers to begin the process of getting their passports as early as a year ahead of expiration.
If you don't have imminent plans to travel internationally, that is ironically the best time to think about getting your passport.
Passports may be renewed at any point during their last 12 months of validity. I'd suggest you start thinking about applying for a passport renewal at the beginning of that window.
The government's pilot program for online renewal is not yet reliably available, but in the periods when online renewal is available, wait times can be cut dramatically because forms are instantly uploaded, as I learned from personal experience.