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Americans can soon renew passports online, thanks to Biden order

The order also includes new technologies to speed up airport security

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

President Biden signed an executive order Monday to allow Americans to renew their passports online, eliminating the need for physical documents and paper checks to be sent through the mail.

“When a disaster survivor, single parent, immigrant, small business owner, or veteran waits months for the Government to process benefits to which they are entitled, that lost time is a significant cost not only for that individual, but in the aggregate, for our Nation as a whole,” Biden said in the order, which includes new technologies for everything from taxes to veterans’ benefits.

According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the order could take between six to 12 months to take effect.

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When the coronavirus forced passport offices to close for months in 2020, the system was jammed with millions of passport requests in the process, causing massive delays for travelers. In October, the State Department said wait times had gone down to a range of eight to 11 weeks, or five to seven weeks for expedited services, which cost an extra $60.

“It’s such exciting news, but it’s going to take a while,” says Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club. “Passports have truthfully been one of the hardest parts of travel since the pandemic.”

Cohen says travelers are still plagued by inconsistent and lengthy wait times to get their passports renewed.

“Some clients are getting it back in 2 weeks; for others it’s been four months and their passports are still not back,” Cohen said.

Peter Vlitas, Internova Travel Group’s senior vice president of airline relations, said that while he welcomes the Biden administration’s move to modernize passport services, he hopes it is part of a bigger effort to streamline the American travel experience.

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That appears to be in the pipeline as well. The White House said the order will mean “passengers will have shorter security and check-in lines at airports due to increased use of technologies, like new security machines and computers with advanced screening features.”

Until the digital passport renewal system is created, Cohen’s advice to travelers is to submit passport renewals at least four to five months ahead of an international trip.

No matter what a country’s entry rules are, Cohen recommended that travelers make sure their passports have six months of validity at the time of departure. Some airlines may not allow a passenger to board if they have less than six months until their passport expires, even if it’s not required by the destination.

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