If you're flying back home from outside of the U.S., having an unexpired U.S. passport is one of the usual criteria for re-entering the country. But when the pandemic started to affect transportation and borders around the world closed partially or fully early last year, some Americans abroad experienced difficulties getting back home. What made things more complex was that their passports could have expired in the meantime.
In response to this situation, the U.S. government announced in May 2021 that U.S. citizens who meet certain requirements can now re-enter the country even with an expired passport. Here's what you need to know about qualifying to return home with an expired passport as well as how to renew your passport as soon as possible.
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How the Pandemic Affected Travelers
When COVID-19 started spreading across the world, flights shut down or became limited in many places, and many countries changed their entry policies so that traveling from place to place or even returning home became more complex. While the U.S. government worked early last year to help bring home some Americans stuck overseas, other people faced the prospect of getting stranded long-term as the restrictions wouldn't get lifted quickly.
While some stranded Americans may have worked abroad and just wanted to return to the U.S. to visit their family or vacation, people in other situations could particularly face financial difficulties. For example, some Americans may have been traveling long-term or visiting with family abroad, so not being able to re-enter the U.S. could mean an inability to return to their jobs and families at home. Such people also could face financial challenges paying for daily living expenses abroad while bills continued to pile up at home in the U.S.
Americans who stayed stuck overseas long enough for their passports to expire faced further hurdles. For example, the issuance and renewal of passports stopped entirely for a time except in dire emergencies. In usual times, one could've contacted a U.S. Embassy abroad and received assistance with passport renewal.
What the New Ruling Means
Along with the facts that borders are reopening and travel has become easier as the pandemic situation improves, the new ruling issued last month on using expired passports has offered some relief to Americans eager to return home. As long as your passport expired no earlier than January 2020, you'll be able to keep using it until the end of 2021 as long as you meet the government's criteria.
You'll need to be a U.S. citizen with a passport in hand that doesn't have any damage or alteration. You'll need either a direct flight or one with just a short stop abroad before returning to the U.S. There are still restrictions on re-entry if your passport falls in a special category or has limited validity in the first place.
Another one of the criteria for re-entering is to present proof you don't have COVID. This means you'll either need to get a COVID test and have a negative result three days before your flight or show you've had and recovered from COVID in the last three months.
Renew Your Expired Passport
When you do return to the U.S., you'll want to renew your passport since processing has resumed, although you can expect some delays. Most people renewing their expired passports will have their request processed in 12 weeks through the standard service. You can pay for the expedited option and get it within six weeks or contact a U.S. Embassy about an emergency renewal if you're in a dire situation.
The passport renewal process may occur in person or by mail depending on your situation. As long as the information on the passport's still valid, you've had it for no more than 15 years, you were at least 16 upon issuance and you haven't lost or damaged your passport, you should be able to do everything through the mail. Otherwise, you'll want to schedule an appointment with a local acceptance center to handle the person in person.
- U.S. Department of State: International Travel
- U.S. Department of State: Passport Operations in Response to COVID-19
- Forbes: US State Department Brings Home Over 85,000 Americans In Coronavirus Crisis
- Los Angeles Times: U.S. Stops Issuing Passports Except In Emergencies
- U.S. Department of State: Renew my Passport