The federal government is gearing up to allow nearly all Americans to renew their passports online rather than by mail. Now, it's giving that system a test run.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday quietly launched a test run of its long-awaited online passport renewal program. It's opening the doors to 25,000 eligible Americans to renew their passports online in the month of August … with plans to launch nationwide sometime early next year. Earlier this year, the State Department had targeted a fall 2022 public launch.
A State Department spokesperson told Thrifty Traveler that the August test will help ensure the online renewal system works as designed, leading up to a full public launch in early 2023. If travelers don't make the cut in August, the department is planning future rounds of tests in the coming months.
But not just anyone is eligible to renew online during this testing phase.
- Applicants must be 25 or older, with a passport still in hand (and in usable shape) that was valid for a full 10 years – though an expired one is OK.
- That passport must have been issued at least nine years ago (no more recent than 2013) but no more than 15 years ago (no earlier than 2007).
The State Department also warns that anyone with international travel in the next five weeks should not apply for online renewal, as processing times will be no different than the normal mail-in route – at least in this pilot project.
If your passport meets those qualifications and a few more (like you can't be trying to change your name or other personal details), you can create and activate a MyTravelGov account, wait roughly 24 hours, then log into your account and look for the new option to “Renew Now.” You'll also need to take and upload your own digital passport photo as part of the online renewal process – an elegant solution to that particular problem.
Renewing a passport is a regular part of life for Americans with international travel on their agendas. Passports expire every 10 years, or every five years for children under 16. But in practice, that window may be slightly shorter as many countries around the globe require at least six months of validity on a passport to allow entry.
It may seem years – if not decades – behind schedule in our digital age. Still, this latest test is a welcome development for international travelers that should both speed up renewals and relieve a long-building backlog of new applicants seeking passports to head abroad.
President Joe Biden set online passport renewals in motion in December 2021 with an executive order to streamline many government processes. By March, the State Department told Thrifty Traveler it aimed to bring that function online sometime in fall 2022 after an even more limited pilot project with federal employees and government contractors to test out the system.
Dan from Dan's Deals has recounted his success story with renewing his passport online through the State Department's pilot program. After submitting the application on Feb. 25, he said it was shipped on March 4 – and then received it in the mail on March 7. From start to finish, that's a turnaround time of 10 days!
That speed may not be sustainable as the program expands to millions of Americans. But it's an encouraging sign.
It's not all good news for Americans renewing a passport, though. While we had hoped a streamlined process would result in lower fees, the opposite was true: The Department of State raised passport fees at the end of 2021, whether you're renewing an existing passport or applying for a new one.
Adult renewals now cost $130, up from the previous $110 rate – and that's before any additional fees to expedite processing, which costs another $60. New adult applications have jumped from $145 to $165, while minors under 16 applying for a passport now pay $135 (up from $115).
Online passport renewal is coming.
With this latest pilot project, just 25,000 Americans can renew their passports online this month on a first-come, first-served basis – with some fairly strict eligibility requirements based on the age of your current passport. Stay tuned for when this latest test expands, making online passport renewal the go-to way for Americans to re-up their passports.