There’s a passport backlog in the Bay Area and nationwide. Here are some hacks to get yours faster.

Table of Contents How it wentLessons Learned (How it’s going) As soon as my kids were officially on summer break, I spent a significant amount of money on non-refundable airline tickets for my family to travel to the Bahamas. The trip, which was part work and part leisure, was long-planned. […]

As soon as my kids were officially on summer break, I spent a significant amount of money on non-refundable airline tickets for my family to travel to the Bahamas. The trip, which was part work and part leisure, was long-planned. But thanks to a backlog in passport processing at the U.S. Department of State, the trip didn’t go as hoped. 

Earlier this year, I’d won a professional award that came with a prize of several nights at the Bahamas’ Atlantis Paradise Island. My husband suggested we use it for my June birthday. Busily booking once-in-a-lifetime experiences like fly fishing for bonefish, I checked my own passport, which was valid until 2024, and assumed all of our passports were on the same expiration schedule. I was wrong. 

I suspect I wasn’t alone in thinking the biggest impediment to international travel in 2021 would be the pandemic, not passport woes. And if the “US Passports and Visas” Facebook group, which currently has about 7,600-plus members (with about 100 new members a day), is any indication, I am far from alone in trying to find creative ways to beat the current passport processing backlog. 

Among those of us who got caught up in what is now a multi-month delay, I’m seeing more and more “don’t give up, this is what worked for me” posts. I set out to learn from those who figured out how to successfully navigate the system. Here’s my story, along with some hacks I learned along the way. 

Travelers walk through the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday, March 21, when more than 1.5 million people streamed through U.S. airport security checkpoints, the largest number since the pandemic tightened its grip on the United States more than a year ago. 

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

How it went

June 14: Text my husband. “Can you make sure all our passports are in order?” 

June 19: Text my husband again. “Can you apply for our health visas?”

June 20: Another text. “Did you apply for our health visas?” He calls and says he doesn’t know what happened. He could’ve sworn all our passports were on the same schedule, so why are two of them expired? Note: Passports for kids under 16 expire every five years. They can’t be renewed. You can’t mail the application either. It must be submitted at a passport acceptance facility and both parents must be present. (There are options, which include a notarized form, for situations in which parents can’t go.)

June 23: Drive four hours to San Francisco after spending several days online and hours on the phone unsuccessfully trying to schedule an “Urgent Travel (non-emergency)” in-person appointment for 72 hours before my departure date (see Hack #4). Online reviews indicate that the San Francisco Passport Agency accepts walk-ins and the staff will sometimes go out of their way to help. 

June 24: Stand in line at 8 a.m. at the San Francisco passport agency office. After charming the security guard to let us into the building, I see the receptionist helping a woman who doesn’t have the correct paperwork for her appointment. The waiting room is nearly empty, so I ask if I can take the appointment instead. The answer: “No.” Appointments must be made online. Even if there is a no show or a cancellation, nobody else can fill that spot. That’s when I joined the passport Facebook group (See Hack #8).

June 25: Contact my congressperson’s office. I get a personal phone call from Congressman Tom McClintock’s (4th District, California) constituent services representative within twelve hours. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time for them to make an inquiry on my behalf and they can’t find any appointments for either the San Francisco or Los Angeles passport offices that day. I cancel my trip, hoping to reschedule for August 7. 

June 29: Submit an application at the local recreation center (see Hack #3) in the City of Upland, which we happened to be passing through, and pay them $70 with our credit card for accepting two passport applications. The expedited processing fee is $157.56 per passport which includes the $17.56 for an overnight return of our new passports. We forgot our checkbook and have to drive to Walmart for money orders.

July 8: Check our application status daily until it’s “In Process,” and a receipt date and locator number appears. Typically, it takes four weeks from the time you submit an application. All passports are sent to New Hampshire, where they are sorted randomly to either a processing center or passport agency. (See Hack #6 below on how to figure out where your passport is being processed.) Start the clock: 10-12 weeks for standard processing or four to six weeks if expedited.

July 14: Contact Congressman McClintock’s office again. Though it takes longer for them to return my call this time, McClintock’s staff remembers who I am and asks me to send documentation that I had to cancel my flight once already. 

Lessons Learned (How it’s going)

Hack #1: Don’t purchase international plane tickets until you have valid passports in-hand.

Chris Kuna, 40, from Chicago loves traveling internationally with his wife and two kids. He joined the Passport Facebook Group in September 2020 and renewed all his passports then. His fellow group members were not too happy when he reminded us of the most obvious hack of all: plan ahead.

Commenters in the

Commenters in the “US Passport and Visa Services” Facebook group give each other tips and tricks. Some are more helpful than others. 

Screenshot / Facebook

Hack #2: See if there’s a State Department-hosted Passport Acceptance Fair being held before your trip and within driving distance.

New fairs are added each week to help first-time customers and kids. The fairs accept applications only. Some are by appointment, others are first come, first served and have had to turn people away.

Hack #3: Find an appointment using the U.S. Department of State’s passport acceptance facility search function instead of

I found more availability at city government locations but you’ll have to search each of their web sites or call them to make an appointment.

Hack #4: Search the Online Passport Appointment System (or call 1-877-487-2778) two weeks before your departure date.

This is how you book an “Urgent Travel (non-emergency)” in-person appointment for 72 hours before your departure date. This is a separate appointment system for State Department passport agencies, which are distinct from the passport acceptance facilities mentioned in Hack #3. 

Note: Some people have grabbed appointments they can’t use in order to trade with others. Others are willing to fly across the country for an appointment. 

Hack #5: Use the 1221 Trick.

Nobody knows who figured this out but frequently members of the passport support group will share a cheat sheet like this, handwritten by “Joy’s husband.”

Hack #6: Identify where your passport is being processed using your passport locator number.

Once you know where your passport is, you can call the location and upgrade your service from routine to expedited, pay for overnight mailing and remind them of your departure date. The locator number is also useful for transferring your application. Call the same 1-877-487-2778 and try the 1221 trick. Note: While most have had success transferring their applications in time for their appointments, some people have reported that their transfer requests were denied.

Hack #7: Contact your congressman or senator.

Most people in this Facebook Passport Group report receiving their passports about seven days after contacting their local representative or senator. 
One couple from San Francisco submitted their passport application eight weeks in advance of their departure date. A week before their trip, when it still hadn’t been returned, they called their congressional office. “Four hours before our flight, as we were heading to the airport and putting our luggage in the car, our passport arrived in the mail.”

Hack #8: Check with the Passport Facebook group to see if anyone is giving away an unused or unneeded appointment.

Occasionally, someone makes an Urgent Travel (non-emergency) appointment they don’t end up needing. These appointments, which are only usable by someone with an existing ticket scheduled to depart within 72 hours, are prized right now. Some members of the passport Facebook group have successfully “gifted” these appointments to other members. Note: While many members have had no issues using a gifted appointment, some agencies have turned people away if the appointment name doesn’t match the passport applicant. 

Hack #9:  Never pay for an appointment.

They are free. Some scammers within the Passport Facebook group are selling appointments for $300. Others are claiming they can get you your passport on the same day for $4,000. 

Getting a new or renewed U.S. passport isn't as easy as you might think. 

Getting a new or renewed U.S. passport isn’t as easy as you might think. 

Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

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