Some US citizens can return to country with expired passports

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Editor’s Note — Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get news about destinations opening and closing, inspiration for future adventures, plus the latest in aviation, food and drink, where to stay, and other travel developments.(CNN) — Certain American citizens living or traveling abroad will be able to return to the United States if their passports have expired.

The US State Department issued a memo December 28 that said citizens who fall under specific criteria will be able to return to their home country before March 31, 2022, on expired passports.

However, there are many conditions that apply.

For one, not every expired US passport will be acceptable as a return document. This exemption applies to American citizens who are currently abroad and returning to the United States (not leaving the country and going elsewhere) whose passports expired after January 1, 2020.

In addition, only certain kinds of passports are relevant. The expired document in question must have been an original 10-year passport, with exceptions for people who were younger than 15 when the passport was issued, because those are five-year passports.

These passports must be unaltered and in the owner’s possession.

Americans who fall under this criteria can come back to the the United States or a US territory until the end of March 2022. Short layovers are permitted, as some destinations do not have direct return flights to the United States.

This is the second significant passport news announced this week.

As of December 27, the cost of obtaining a new US passport went up by $20, going from $110 to $130 for a 10-year document.

“The increased fee is necessary to ensure we continue to produce one of the most secure travel and identity documents in the world,” the State Department wrote in a tweet.

One likely reason for this expired passport amnesty is the backlog in renewals resulting from the pandemic. The State Department’s website advises Americans to expect a passport renewal to take between eight and 11 weeks, although individuals can pay a $60 fee to expedite the process.

That said, government officials have admitted that waits in the past two years have been longer than usual.

Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary for passport services, said in a news briefing this summer that it wasn’t unusual for passport applications to take as long as 18 weeks, “and that includes our processing time, the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing.” That was the case for both first-time and renewal applications.

At the time, she estimated that there were between 1.5 and 2 million outstanding passport applications.

Americans abroad whose passports expire before January 1, 2022, are not completely out of luck. These citizens, along with people whose passports were lost or stolen, can apply for an emergency passport that will enable them to return to the United States.

Those documents, though, will be good only for the single journey back to the United States, so people who get these emergency passports will then have to go through the usual procedure to get a new passport afterward.

For more specific questions, the State Department advises Americans to check in with the US embassy or consulate closest to where they are. Americans who live abroad or will be spending significant amounts of time overseas should sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the latest travel notifications and security alerts.

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