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Passport processing times are back to normal after big delays in 2023, making it less likely travelers will miss a trip because of a stalled renewal.
However, another common passport snafu threatens to upend your trip overseas — and it involves passports that haven’t yet expired but are close to doing so.
Many countries require that Americans have at least a few months of validity remaining on their U.S. passport in order to travel there, or to secure a visa to that country.
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For example, the Schengen Area, which encompasses 27 European nations, requires a U.S. passport be valid for at least 90 days beyond the end of your trip (i.e., your return date), according to the State Department.
Many countries in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions require at least six months of validity for permission to enter. Other areas like Hong Kong require one month.
What this means: Gatekeepers like border officials will deny travel if your passport doesn’t have a certain amount of validity remaining. Some airlines won’t even let you board the flight. In these cases, your nonexpired passport would cost you a vacation.
The requirement “trips a lot of people up,” said Charles Leocha, president and co-founder of Travelers United, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Here’s the reason for the rule: When traveling to Europe, for example, a valid U.S. passport allows tourists to stay for up to 90 days without a visa. Border officials “often assume you will stay the maximum 90 days, even if this is not your intention,” according to the State Department.
It’s important to remember that certain countries may require travelers to secure a separate visa for entry — typically at an additional cost, Leocha said. Brazil, for example, is reinstating a visa requirement for Americans on April 10. (It costs U.S. citizens $80.90 and lasts for 10 years.)
Travelers can find passport-validity and visa requirements for specific countries on the State Department website.
“It’s just really important to plan ahead,” said Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet.
She recommends applying for a new passport if it will expire within a year.
A traditional passport — a passport book — costs $130 for adults. First-time applicants must pay an additional $35 acceptance fee. Travelers can also pay more for faster service: Expedited passport processing costs an extra $60.
Passports are generally valid for 10 years. (They’re only valid for five years if the traveler was under age 16 when it was issued.)
Passport processing delays stymied many travelers last year as a historic volume of applications stressed government resources. The U.S. State Department issued more than 24 million passport books and cards during the 2023 fiscal year (from October 2022 to September 2023), a record high.
Processing times ballooned to 10 to 13 weeks for a routine passport application, and seven to nine weeks for an expedited passport.
By comparison, it took six to eight weeks for routine service and two to three weeks for expedited service before the Covid-19 pandemic. The State Department has returned to that pre-pandemic norm, it announced Dec. 18.
Processing times don’t account for mailing. It can take the government up to two weeks to receive an application, and another two weeks for travelers to get their new passport.
Almost half, 48%, of Americans have a passport, up from 5% in 1990, the State Department said. There are more than 160 million valid U.S. passports in circulation, nearly double the amount from 2007.