Why It's Now Easier Than Ever For People Without Passports To Get One

In December 2023, the U.S. State Department shared an update that brought a smile to many a traveler's faces: There's no longer a passport delay that could strain international travel planning. What was once an agonizing 18-month wait due to a pandemic-induced backlog has been trimmed down to just six to eight weeks for routine service and two to three weeks for those opting for expedited processing. "With this update, we have fulfilled our commitment to return to benchmarks from March 2020. This reflects the work of dedicated employees working for the American people," the department said in a statement. Whether you need a passport to enter a national park or are itching to jet off abroad, now is an opportune time to secure that coveted little blue book. But if you find it a pain to book a trip to an acceptance facility, there's another route you can try — attending a special passport acceptance fair.


In case you didn't know, these fairs are nothing new. The State Department has been holding them regularly since 2017 as a way to alleviate the stress of high travel demand. "Adults who are first-time applicants and all children can apply early and avoid the rush!" the department once noted on its website. So, for those looking to get their first passport without jumping through hoops involved in setting an appointment, simply showing up at one of these fairs is your next best bet.

Look for a special passport acceptance fair in your area

Special passport acceptance fairs operate similarly to traditional acceptance facilities. These events are typically hosted at accessible establishments, including libraries and government offices. While they don't follow a set schedule, the State Department maintains an updated table on its website where you can find upcoming fairs by state. Just enter your state's abbreviation in the provided text box to filter the results. If there isn't one nearby, don't worry — new fairs are added on the calendar on a weekly basis.


Each fair is usually a one-day event with specific operating hours, and while many accept walk-ins, some still require an appointment. It's in your best interest to verify details beforehand to avoid any inconvenience. If you do decide to apply at one of them, remember that they adhere to the same processing times (both routine and expedited) as standard acceptance centers. They only host the application process, after all, and your paperwork is still forwarded to the State Department. Oh, and speaking of paperwork, be sure to bring a completed application form, proof of U.S. citizenship and photo ID (and photocopies of each), an eligible photo, and, of course, the payment. Each application costs $130, with an additional $60 if you opt for expedited processing.


What's more, if you have held onto your old and expired passport and wish to renew, keep in mind that special passport acceptance fairs do not handle renewals. You're better off mailing it in like usual instead.

Need your passport ASAP? That requires a different process

Regardless of whether you submit your passport application at a traditional acceptance facility or through a Special Passport Acceptance Fair, the wait for your passport is typically a few weeks, even with expedited processing. Need your passport ASAP? Fortunately, the State Department offers two ultra-expedited services: Life-or-Death Emergencies and Urgent Travel, both requiring appointments.


For the Life-or-Death Emergency service, you only qualify if an immediate family member has passed away or is critically ill. You'll need to provide documentation of the situation, your flight details, and completed paperwork. Appointments can be made online or by phone. Meanwhile, the Urgent Travel service caters to those who need to travel within 14 days. You must schedule an appointment at one of the 26 designated passport agencies nationwide, however, and not just any passport acceptance facility. Proof of imminent travel, such as your itinerary and an additional $60 expedite fee, are required.

If you're lucky, you may get your passport on the same day. One Reddit user recalled a time when they called a passport agency to secure an appointment for a trip days away, and they were able to get their passport in the nick of time. "My flight left at 8pm that night. I showed the lady at the counter my itinerary and it was ready that day by 2:30pm," they said. But as always, your mileage may vary, so it's best to prepare and apply as early as possible.