Know Before You Go: Steps You Should Take When Planning a Trip Abroad

This post has been updated with the latest passport service timelines from the State Department, effective October 8, 2021.

With many countries opening up for tourism again, our office wants to make sure PA-05 residents have up-to-date information about travel recommendations and current passport timelines.

When planning a trip abroad, there are a few steps you must take:

  1. Obtain a passport, or check your passport’s expiration date if you already have one
  2. Check for travel advisories from the State Department
  3. Check for foreign travel requirements
  4. Check for U.S. reentry requirements

We’ve provided a breakdown of each of these four critical steps below.

It’s very important to ensure your passport is up to date before booking any flights.

If you are getting a passport for the first time, you should plan to apply several months in advance. You’ll be required to apply in person using Form DS-11 if at least one of the following is true:

  • You are applying for your first U.S. passport
  • You are under age 16
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged
  • Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 years ago

If you need a passport renewal, it’s important to note that the timelines have changed due to the pandemic and, now, an increasing demand for passports and other travel documents.

Passport agencies are experiencing high volumes of both routine and expedited applications. At this time, it can take up to 14 weeks to receive your passport after sending in the application.

If you apply for expedited service, it is recommended you send your application using USPS Priority Mail Express. With this service, your passport can be expected within 10 weeks.

Once you send off your passport for renewal, you can track it through the State Department’s online self service tool. If your status update says “not available,” that means your application and documents are still on their way to the passport center. Once the status update is “In process,” your application and documents have been received by the agency.

If you applied for a passport renewal and have not received it within 14 weeks for a routine application or 10 weeks for an expedited application, a letter has likely been sent to you requesting more information. At this point, if you did not get a letter and are concerned, you can reach out to our office at 610–626–2020.

It’s essential to plan accordingly and allow enough time before your planned travel since in-person appointments at the Philadelphia Passport Agency are extremely limited. They reserve the majority of their appointments for applicants with life or death emergencies overseas.

Additionally, when considering travel outside of the United States, the State Department recommends always looking at their travel advisories before booking any flights. You can check the latest alerts for any country on the State Department’s website by entering the name of your destination country on the right-hand side.

The State Department also recommends enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so they know you will be out of the country and can provide up-to-date safety and security information. You can enroll in the program here.

Many countries have COVID-19 testing requirements in place for travelers. To find these requirements, visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website for that country. A comprehensive list of these websites is available through the State Department.

Finally, it’s important to note that there are requirements for reentering the United States after international travel. All air passengers entering the United States (including U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents) must present a negative COVID-19 test, taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days​. Airlines must confirm the negative test result or proof of recovery for all passengers two years of age and over prior to boarding. Airlines are required to deny boarding of passengers who do not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery. Learn more by visiting the CDC’s FAQ.

As travel continues to increase and more countries open to tourism, it’s essential that you stay updated. You can follow the U.S. Department of State at @travelgov on Facebook and Twitter for the most current information. Additionally, you can always call our office at 610–626–2020 with any questions.

Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.