If you fly home from outside the U.S., having a valid U.S. passport is one of the usual criteria for re-entering the country. But as the pandemic began affecting transportation and borders around the world closed in part or in whole early last year, some Americans abroad had trouble returning home. What makes things more complicated is that their passports may have expired in the meantime.
In response to this situation, the U.S. government announced in May 2021 that U.S. citizens who meet certain requirements can now re-enter the country even if their passports expire. Here’s what you need to know about your eligibility to return home with an expired passport as well as how to renew your passport as soon as possible.
How the pandemic affects visitors
As COVID-19 began to spread around the world, flights were shut down or restricted in many places, and many countries changed their immigration policies making travel from one place to another or even returning home more complicated. While the U.S. government worked early last year to help bring some Americans stranded abroad home, others face the prospect of long-term stranding because the restrictions won’t be lifted quickly.
While some stranded Americans may have worked abroad and just want to return to the U.S. to visit family or go on vacation, those in other situations may be particularly struggling financially. For example, some Americans may have traveled long-term or visited family abroad, so not being able to re-enter the U.S. may mean an inability to return to work and family back home. Such people may also face financial challenges of paying the daily cost of living abroad while bills continue to pile up at home in the U.S.
Americans stranded abroad long enough for their passports to expire face even more hurdles. For example, the issuance and exchange of passports completely stop for a period of time except in an emergency. During normal times, a person may have contacted the U.S. Embassy abroad and received assistance with the renewal of the passport.
The meaning of the new rule.
Coupled with the fact that the border is being reopened and getting easier to travel as the pandemic situation improves, a new ruling issued last month on the use of expired passports has brought some relief to Americans eager to return home. As long as your passport expires no earlier than January 2020, you will be able to continue using it until the end of 2021 as long as you meet the government’s criteria.
You need to be a U.S. citizen with a passport in hand that is not damaged or altered. You will need a nonstop flight or a stop-only flight abroad before returning to the United States. There are still restrictions on re-entry if your passport is of a special type or has limited value in the first place.
One of the other criteria for re-entering is to show proof that you don’t have COVID. This means you’ll need to get tested for COVID and have a negative result three days before your flight or show you’ve had and recovered from COVID in the past three months.
Renew your expired passport
When returning to the U.S., you’ll want to renew your passport because processing has resumed, although you may experience some delays. Most expired passport renewals will be processed for 12 weeks through standard service. You can pay for the express option and receive it within six weeks or contact the U.S. Embassy about an emergency extension if you are in a serious situation.
The passport renewal process can be done in person or by post depending on your case. As long as the information on the passport is still valid, you have had it for no more than 15 years, you were at least 16 years old when issued and you do not lose or damage your passport, you will be able to do everything by mail. Otherwise, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your local acceptance center to handle it directly.