A passport is a magical document enabling its holder to travel to foreign nations far across the globe. But in order to renew the federally sanctioned identification, you may soon need to go no further than your computer.
Starting in mid-2018, a limited online passport renewal program will be rolled out by the U.S. State Department, a Department official announced in December.
And the streamlined procedure couldn’t come at a better time.
Passports are valid for 10 years for adults, and the State Department saw a huge uptick in renewal requests last year—the tenth anniversary of the declaration that Americans would need a passport to visit Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, which spurred more than 18.6 million applications for the document in 2007.
All told, 2017 saw a record-breaking 21 million-plus applications, but the State Department has estimated that 2018 won’t be far behind, with more than 20.4 million passport applications expected. (The sustained demand is due, in part, to the forthcoming enforcement of the REAL ID Act, which requires fliers to show specific documents in order to make it past airport security, even for domestic flights.)
While the online renewal program won’t let applicants skip the clerk’s office completely, it should help millions of Americans more swiftly and easily get the job done.
The changes allow users to fill out paperwork online, and offer text or e-mail updates on the application status, which State Department spokesman Carl Siegmund said wouldn’t just help applicants but the Department, too, as passport offices received 1.4 million phone calls about status checks last year alone.
Also in the crosshairs for an easier upgrade are the rules for accepting passport photos, which are so tricky they cause nearly 15% of applications to stall, Siegmund said. And the issue is a lingering one, with a low-quality photo adding up to three or four additional weeks to an application process while the matter is dealt with.
While the photo-related changes are still farther down the line, they could allow applicants to submit pictures directly. So all that selfie-taking practice may one day be useful after all.