As more people venture farther from home following a year of limited travel, Congressman Robert Aderholt is urging local residents with international travel plans to make sure their passports are current well ahead of booking a flight.
Higher post-COVID demand and limited staffing have combined to extend the wait time to receive a new, renewed, or expedited passport. Cullman County Circuit Clerk Lisa McSwain said Wednesday that her office has indeed been very busy processing recent passport applications, but not to an extent that should hamper local wait times.
“At first we saw a trickle, but now we’re seeing a lot more people trying to get their passports,” she said. “We have been super-busy, but it hasn’t overloaded us. We have a number of well-trained office staff who’ve been able to keep up with the traffic we’re seeing.”
Throughout Aderholt’s district, though, the demand (and wait) for passports has come as a surprise to some applicants — especially those seeking renewals.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end and vaccinations increase, more international destinations are opening back up for American tourists,” the Congressman said in a statement. “…But my office is also seeing a lot of people who have booked a trip and realize at the last minute their passport has expired.
“The passport offices are currently seeing an influx of emergency requests, which means not all emergency requests can be met before departure date. I encourage anyone considering international travel to make sure they check their passport to make sure it is still valid. And if you don’t currently have a passport and want to travel overseas, apply for your passport now.”
McSwain said passport applicants everywhere face a longer post-pandemic wait than they did before COVID-19. A year ago, the typical wait time for a new passport was 6-8 weeks; now, applicants should anticipate waiting 10-12 weeks. Even expedited passports, a premium service that costs $60, now require a 6-8 week wait compared with the previous wait of only 3-4 weeks.
For adults over the age of 16, new passports are good for 10 years, and can be renewed through a self-managed application process — one that doesn’t require starting from scratch — within 5 years after expiring. For people ages 16 and under, passports are good for 5 years. If you’d like to renew your passport, you can fill out, download, and print the required forms online at travel.state.gov, or pick them up in person at the Cullman County Circuit Clerk’s office.
Passports typically must be valid for six months beyond the date the traveler will leave the U.S. Aderholt’s office urges Alabama residents to make sure that their passports will still be valid six months beyond their travel plans — even if their passports are still valid today. “If you request an emergency passport, because of the current influx of requests, there is no guarantee it can be processed in time,” Aderholt’s office advised.
McSwain cautions that applicants should avoid online passport services offered by third parties, which often charge a fee to assist with the process — all without guaranteeing, or having any official sanction to deliver, a result. If you’re submitting your renewal forms via U.S. Mail, she also advises tracking your delivery through the Post Office.
Local residents with passport questions are encouraged to call the Cullman County Circuit Clerk’s office at 256-775-4654, and listen for the “passports” menu prompt to connect with a staff member who can assist.