Company Says They’ll Get Your Passport in 3 Days or Your Money Back

by SharonKurheg

One of the biggest topics for travelers in recent months (well, more like YEARS) is the length of time it’s taking to get back your new or renewed passport.

Before the pandemic, the wait to get your new passport was about 6 to 8 weeks for standard service. And if you were willing to pay for expedited service, you could get it back in as little as 2 weeks!

But then Covid hit. Save for absolute emergency situations, passport processing centers were closed from mid-March to mid-June of 2020. And even when the centers began reopening, it was slow and methodical. Individual offices opened one at a time, based on local legislature, and with fewer personnel than usual, to allow for social distancing. So they couldn’t process passports as quickly and there was a backlog. Of course, there were few places outside of the country that Americans could actually travel to, so that kind of helped.

But by early 2021 or so, Covid vaccines became available and most people were eligible to receive them within a few months. On top of that, more and more countries were allowing international visitors again. So the backlog of passports grew. And grew some more as 2021, 2022 and 2023 continued.

And now you have today. The State Department currently (well, ever since their last update, March 24) says they’re processing routine applications in 10-13 weeks and expedited applications in 7-9 weeks (and those times don’t include mailing times to and from). They claim the reasons for the delay are multiple:

High demand

Once the pandemic started to become more under control, 2021 and part of 2022 were the years of domestic travel. Several countries still weren’t allowing visitors, so people traveled within the U.S. (read: no passport required). Starting in 2022 though, more and more people were able and willing to travel internationally – both as a matter of practice and need, as well as due to so-called “revenge travel.”

And then 2023 hit. Besides the people whose passports were expiring right around now anyway, there’s a push of people whose passports had either expired during the pandemic, or who wanted their first passports ever. AND it’s summertime, which is a “high travel” time of year in the U.S.

Says the State Dep’t: “As more Americans are traveling internationally again, we are directing resources to meet the unprecedented demand seen so far in 2023. We are on track to set the record for the highest demand year ever, far surpassing volumes seen during previous surges in demand in 2007 and 2017. During some weeks this winter, the Department received more than 500,000 applications, the highest number ever for this time of year, exceeding our official projections.”

The State Department told the New York Times it’s receiving 430,000 applications a week, which is a TON…but is at least down some from the peak of 560,000 per week they were receiving in March. The department says they’re on track to issue 25 million passports this year, an increase from last year’s 22 million.

Not enough workers

On top of having more passport applications than they expected, the State Department still has not been able to hire enough workers to cover the increased load. Their current employees are working overtime, double time, and apparently even triple time to get through the backlog. But why they don’t have enough workers is beyond, well, a lot of people.

From the State Dep’t: “We are addressing the increased workload through a number of efforts. We are aggressively recruiting and hiring across our passport agencies and centers. Our passport team members nationwide contribute tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month to issue the millions of passports sought by traveling Americans. We have opened a satellite office to help process the large number of applications we are receiving.”

What to do?

Some states are apparently hit harder by delays than others (although I’m not sure how much faith to put in that…I live in Florida, which is what was supposedly a “slower” state, and got my passport in 17 days last month). In any case, the State Dep’t says its goal is to reduce processing times to about 6 to 8 weeks for routine service and 2 to 3 weeks for expedited service. That would put them on par with pre-pandemic turnaround service.

But since they’re nowhere near that level, here’s what some people are doing to try to get their passports:

Planning and applying early

This has probably been the easiest and more-frequently used tactic. If people know they’re going to travel in 6+ months, they’re starting the application process now, so they have plenty of time to get their new passports. It’s what I did. I wasn’t going to need my passport until a cruise in February 2024, so I started the process in July, 2023. As I said, I somehow got mine back in 17 days (here’s how I did it), but I didn’t know that would be the case when I sent my application out.

Contacting their Congressperson

When travel is more imminent (read: in a few weeks), some people have contacted their Congressperson. It appears to help, at least some of the time.

Using a passport expediting service

Some people use a passport expediting service (sometimes called a courier company). That’s a third party service that claims to get your passport faster than if you do it yourself…for a fee, of course.

Most of these expediting services claim they can get you your passport “faster,” although they sometimes don’t specify how much faster. Some will say they can get you your passport in as little as a few days, but want you to call them to discuss how that can be done.

In fact, Travel + Leisure just profiled a passport expediting company called CIBTvisas. They’re putting an unusual hook on their service, in the form of a money-back guarantee.

CIBTvisas says they’ve been in business for decades. They usually focus on obtaining visas and passports for business travelers, although they’ve expanded their services to serve leisure travelers during these post-pandemic times when passport services have slowed (they also offer immigration services through an offshoot company called Newland Chase). They claim that over 5 million travelers have used their services to get the travel documents they needed.

Anyway, CIBTvisas is promising they can expedite a traveler’s passport in up to 1 to 3 days. What’s more, if they’re unsuccessful in doing so, they’ll return what they’ve charged you in processing fees.

“With demand for passports rising and processing times reaching as long as 13 weeks, we decided to add the new satisfaction guarantee to our passport services as an extra level of assurance and peace of mind to what can be a stressful process for many travelers,” is what CIBTvisas’s President and CEO Marc Kaplan said in a statement to Travel + Leisure. 

Of course, this kind of guaranteed service isn’t cheap. You can expect CIBTvisas to charge you a fee between $199 and $999 to get your passport for you in 1 to 3 days (this is on top of the government’s costs to get your passport). But at least if they’re not successful, you’ll apparently get that money back.

A caveat to this and other services

The State Dep’t is well aware of CIBTvisas and the hundreds of companies like them. They have a whole page about passport expediting services/couriers, where they say:

Thinking of using a courier company? Here are a few things you should know:
  • These companies do not operate as a part of the U.S. Department of State. 
  • You will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person at a passport agency or center
  • Courier companies charge additional fees for their services. 
  • We do not charge a fee to make an appointment at a passport agency or center. If you are asked to pay for an appointment, you should consider the request to be fraudulent. We are not affiliated with any third-party appointment booking services. We may not be able to honor appointments booked via third parties. Do not attempt to book duplicate appointments.
  • If you are using a courier company and applying on Form DS-11, you still must appear in person at an acceptance facility such as a post office, library, or local government office. You will also need to provide additional information, such as proof of urgent international travel in 14 days, or 28 days if you need a foreign visa. 
  • You cannot submit an application online through a courier company.

They also list the following disclaimers:

  • The U.S. Department of State is not responsible for any issues arising from, caused by or otherwise attributed to a courier company, including but not limited to courier company negligence, failure to maintain passport documents’ physical condition, or loss of documents in their possession.
  • The U.S. Department of State does not intervene or resolve applicant disputes with courier companies. If you believe you are the victim of a crime or there has been criminal activity by the courier company, please contact your local law enforcement office.

What if it’s an emergency and I need my passport NOW?

Of course, anyone can go to a passport center to get their passport done quickly, if they have an urgent or emergency situation.

Traveling to get passport done

The State Department realizes that sometimes you just can’t wait anymore; your trip is coming up in a matter of days and you need your passport NOW. Or sometimes an emergency happens – say a death or grave illness in the family – and again, you need your passport immediately. Their website has instructions on what to do if you need to get your passport that quickly.

So yeah – you can wait to get your passport, or make an appointment at a passport center if you need it urgently, OR you can pay a courier like CIBTvisas a lot of money to do some of the work for you.

At least there are choices.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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