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Passport  | © Nikki Vargas/Culture Trip
Passport | © Nikki Vargas/Culture Trip
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How U.S. Passports Will Change in the New Year

Picture of Nikki Vargas
Travel Editor
Updated: 21 December 2017
There have been many rumblings about the coming changes to the American passport in 2018. Some changes are promising (hello, online renewal!), while others—such as the Real ID act—prove more puzzling. If you’re a U.S. passport holder and looking quizzically at that little blue book, wondering how it will fare in the New Year, then read on.

According to Condé Nast Traveler, U.S. passport holders can expect online renewals to be available starting mid-2018. “We’ve got to be future-focused,” said Carl Siegmund, a community relations officer for passport services at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, during a digital government symposium in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to move from paper to digital.” Online renewal is a big win for travelers, who can now avoid the rushed mail-in applications.

In the same vein of pushing the passport renewal process into the 21st century, the State Department plans to implement text message alerts and updates for pending passport applications and renewals. Previously, people had to navigate the (often complicated) State Department website to check on the status of a passport application. However, all that will change in the new year, as messages will be sent direct to your cellphone to keep you up-to-date.

U.S. passport | © Nikki Vargas/Culture Trip
U.S. passport | © Nikki Vargas/Culture Trip

For the less than anticipated changes to the U.S. passport, domestic travelers may now require a passport to get through airport security. According to Matador Network, an estimated 64% of Americans do not have a passport, which makes the implementation of this new rule a big hassle. The change is part of the Real ID Act, which was passed back in 2005 (so, no, we cannot blame Donald Trump for this one) in an effort to stem the flow of fake IDs, following the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

“The final phase of Real ID Act implementation starts January 22, 2018,” writes Condé Nast Traveler. “That’s when air travelers with a driver’s license or state ID card that doesn’t comply—unless that state got an extension—must present another form of identification acceptable to the TSA in order to fly domestically.”

Because of the looming deadline of the Real ID Act, it is expected that a rush of passport applications will hit the State Department come January. While typical application processing times can take anywhere from four to six weeks, the State Department is asking people to expect wait times of closer to six weeks in the new year. For those with an upcoming trip and no time to wait, you can beat the system with services like Fastport Passport, which allows you to get a passport within 24 hours.