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The wait for US passports is creating travel purgatory and heavy summer plans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking for a valid U.S. passport for travel in 2023? Buckle up, willing traveler, for a very different ride before you even get close to an airport.

A much-feared backup to US passport applications has hit a wall of government bureaucracy as worldwide travel picks up toward pre-pandemic registration levels — with too few humans to handle the load. The result, say would-be travelers in the U.S. and around the world, is a frenetic pre-trip purgatory defined, at best, by costly uncertainty.

With family dreams and big money on the line, passport applicants describe a slow-motion agony of waiting, worrying, holding in line, updating the screen, complaining to Congress, paying extra fees and moving on incorrect instructions. Some applicants are buying additional plane tickets to pick up passports where they sit, in other cities, in time to make the flights they booked in the first place.

The outlook is so grim that US officials are not even denying the problem or predicting when it will abate. Blame the epic wait times persistent pandemic -related staff shortages and a pause in online processing this year. This has left the passport agency inundated with a record 500,000 applications a week. The deluge is on track to surpass the 22 million passports issued last year, according to the State Department.

Applicant stories and interviews by The Associated Press show a system of crisis management, in which agencies prioritize urgent cases such as applicants traveling for “life-or-death” reasons and those with only a few days of rest. For everyone else, the options are few and expensive.

So, traveler of 2023, if you still need a valid US passport, brace yourself for an unplanned excursion into the nightmare zone.


It was early March when Dallas-area florist Ginger Collier applied for four passports ahead of a family vacation in late June. The clerk, he said, estimated wait times at eight to 11 weeks. They would have their passports a month before they needed them. “A long time,” Collier recalled thinking.

The State Department then increased the wait time for a regular passport to 13 weeks. “We’ll still be fine,” he thought.

At T-minus two weeks to travel, this was his assessment: “I can’t sleep.” This after months of calling, holding, pressing update on a website, trying with your member of Congress, and stressing as the exit date approached. Not getting the family’s passports would mean losing $4,000, she said, as well as the chance to meet one of her children in Italy after a semester of study abroad.

“My nerves are shot, because I might not be able to reach him,” he said. Call the toll-free number every day, wait up to 90 minutes to be told, at best, that you could get a necessary appointment at passport offices in other states.

“I can’t afford four more plane tickets to anywhere in the United States to get a passport when I applied so long ago,” he said. “What if they just process my passports?”


In March, concerned travelers began demanding answers and then calling for help, including their representatives in the House and Senate, who reported extensively on hearings this year they received more complaints from constituents about passport delays than any other issue.

The US Secretary of State had an answer, of sorts.

“With COVID, the bottom basically went out of the system,” said Antony Blinken he told a House subcommittee on March 23. When demand for travel all but disappeared during the pandemic, he said, the government let go of contractors and reassigned staff who had been dedicated to handling passports.

At the same time, the government also halted an online renewal system “to make sure we can adjust it and make it better,” Blinken said. He said the department is hiring officers as quickly as possible, opening more appointments and trying to address the crisis in other ways.

Passport applicants lit up social media groups, toll-free numbers and lawmakers’ hotlines with questions, calls for advice and cries for help. Facebook and WhatsApp groups filled with reports of bewilderment and fury. Reddit posted gripping diaries, some over 1,000 words long, with application dates, deposits sent, contacts made, time on hold, money spent and requests for advice.

It was in 1952 that a law first required passports for all American travelers abroad, even in peacetime. Passports are now processed at centers across the country and printed at secure facilities in Washington, DC and Mississippi, according to the Government Printing Office.

But the number of Americans holding valid US passports has grown about 10 percent faster than the population over the past three decades, according to Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

After passport delays derailed his own plans to travel to London earlier this year, Zagorsky found that the number of US passports per American has skyrocketed from about three per 100 people in 1989 to nearly 46 per 100 people in 2022. Turns out, Americans are on the move.

“As a society gets richer,” Zagorsky says, “people in that society say, ‘I want to visit the rest of the world.'”


At US consulates abroad, the search for US visas and passports isn’t much brighter.

On a June day, people in New Delhi could wait 451 days for a visa interview, according to the website. Those in Sao Paulo could wait more than 600 days. Would-be travelers to Mexico City were waiting about 750 days; in Bogota, Colombia, it was 801 days.

In Israel, the need is particularly acute. More than 200,000 people with citizenship in both countries live in Israel. It is one appointment per person, even for newborns, who must have both parents involved in the process, before traveling to the United States.

Batsheva Gutterman began looking for three dates immediately after having a baby in December, with the intention of attending a family celebration in July in Raleigh, North Carolina.

His search for three passports stretched from January to June, days before the trip. And it was only resolved after Gutterman paid a small fee to join a WhatsApp group that alerted him to new dates, which remain available for just a few seconds. Finally, he got three appointments in three consecutive days: bureaucracy incarnate.

“We had to drive the whole family with three small children an hour and a half to Tel Aviv three days in a row, taking off work and school,” she said. “This makes me incredibly uncomfortable having a baby in Israel as an American citizen, knowing there is no way I can fly with that baby until we get lucky with a date.”

Recently, there seems to have been some progress. The wait for an appointment for a renewed US passport stood at 360 days on June 8. On July 2, the wait was reduced to 90 days, according to the website.


Back in the U.S., Marni Larsen of Holladay, Utah, stood in line in Los Angeles, California on June 14, hoping to get her son’s passport stuck. That way, he hoped, the couple could meet the rest of their family, who had already left as planned for Europe for a long-planned vacation.

She had applied for her son’s passport two months earlier and spent weeks checking for updates online or through a frustrating call system. As the mid-June break approached, Larsen got busy late Mitt Romney The office of where one of the four people he says is assigned full-time to passport issues was able to locate the document in New Orleans.

It was supposed to be sent to Los Angeles, where he had an appointment to retrieve it. That meant Larsen had to buy new tickets for herself and her son to Los Angeles and reroute her trip from there to Rome. All with the bet that her son’s passport had been sent as promised.

“We’re just waiting in this massive line of tons of people,” Larsen said. “It’s just been a nightmare.”

They got it. But not everyone has been so lucky.

Miranda Richter personally applied for passport renewals for herself and her husband, as well as a new one on February 9 for a trip with her neighbors to Croatia on June 6. He ended up canceling and lost over $1,000.

Her timeline went like this: Her husband and daughter’s passports arrived in 11 weeks, while Richter’s photo was rejected. On May 4, he sent a new one via priority mail. He then paid a $79 express fee, which was never charged to his credit card. Between May 30 and June 2, four days before the trip, Richter and her husband spent more than 12 hours on the national passport line while also calling their congressman, senators and third-party couriers.

Finally, he showed up in person at the federal building in downtown Houston, 30 minutes before the passport office opened. Richter said there were at least 100 people in line.

“The security guard asked me when my appointment was and I burst into tears,” she recalls. She couldn’t get any. “It didn’t work.”


“I just got my passports!” Texts by Ginger Collier.

She ended up showing up at the Dallas passport office with her daughter-in-law at 6:30 a.m. and was sorted into groups and lined up against the walls. Finally, they were called to a window, where the agent was “super nice” and took the family’s four applications, which had been in the office since March 17. More than seven hours later, the two left the office with directions. to collect their passports the next day.

They did, with four days to spare.

“What a ridiculous process,” says Collier. However, the reunion with his son in Italy was sweet. Last week she texted: “That was the best hug ever!”


Kellman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel, Santana reported from Washington and Koenig reported from Dallas. Follow Kellman on Twitter at Kellman, Santana at and Koenig at


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