I renewed my US passport in a single week with the government’s speedy online beta

Perhaps you’ve heard you can now renew your US passport online. As long as you meet certain requirements, there’s a beta website for that. The State Department tells me it’s not necessarily faster — but anecdotally, my family just had two of the speediest, most painless experiences we’ve ever had with the US government.

I applied from my phone, I shot my own digital photo at home — and one week later, I picked up my new passport at the post office. I submitted it on June 15th, my passport was issued on June 20th, and it was waiting for me on the 21st. That’s just six days in total.

When my wife tried it, her renewal went even quicker: she applied on June 24th, her application was approved on the 26th, her new passport shipped on the 27th, and it was ready for pickup on the 29th. Just five days, including shipping.

Plus, we didn’t pay for an envelope or postage or have to ship our passports. I even used my old passport as a photo ID when I picked up the new one.

First, you should know it won’t always be this fast.

During the beta, the US Department of State is intentionally limiting how many people can apply each day, and Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel tells me that’s why my turnaround time was so quick. The beta is currently serving tens of thousands, not millions of people just yet!

The State Department does expect to shave off one to two weeks of processing time because you don’t need to mail in a passport and online payment processing is fast, Patel writes — but one-week turnarounds are likely to disappear as the department ramps up how many people can get in.

Officially, the department’s still quoting six to eight weeks for routine service, the same as it was before the pandemic began. “The time it takes to get a passport will be the same as renewing by mail,” its website warns.

Second, you can only do the easiest kinds of passport renewals online. You must be age 25 or older, currently living in the United States, and renewing a regular 10-year tourist passport issued between 2009 and 2015. You can’t change your name, gender, date, or place of birth, and you need to have your old passport handy. Here’s a fuller list of requirements.

Third, you have to reserve a slot. You need to create a Login.gov account and visit this website each day around 10AM PT / 1PM ET to see if you can get in. You’ll typically see this special message below “Renew Your Passport” if that day’s window has already closed:

When I checked at 1:37PM ET today, the window was still open, but it’s closed now.
Image: State Department website

Once you get in, you don’t need to complete your application immediately; the website automatically saved where I left off. Even if you don’t have a passport photo ready, go ahead and get that slot!

Fourth, you may need a hand to take a valid passport photo; selfies won’t work because your arms need to be at your sides in the frame. I had to hunt around my house for an off-white background with plenty of light, too — but they didn’t reject my photo for having some visible wall texturing in the background.

Here’s the passport photo I hastily submitted. (I shot it by remote-controlling an Osmo Pocket 3 with my phone since my wife was busy.)
Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Fifth, you may not be able to plan any international travel until your new passport arrives, even if it takes longer than you hope; the State Department says your current passport will be canceled after you submit the online application, even if it still would have been valid for a while.

The State Department expects 5 million people will be eligible for online passport renewal every year once the program launches in full, according to Patel. That’s as much as two-thirds of all US passport renewals.

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