SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) --Have you looked at your passport lately? Millions of passports are about to expire at the same time, leading to a backlog of applications. 7 On Your Side looks into what you need to know to avoid the rush.
Passport offices around the country are seeing a sudden surge and chances are it's going to get worse.
Mill Valley resident Frank Le describes the huge line he encountered applying for a passport. Applicants at the San Rafael Post Office stretched out the door and the wait was two hours.
"When I got here I was shocked the line was really, really long," Le says.
An office in San Francisco on Evans Street averages more than 100 applicants per day.
David Tyler is director of the San Francisco passport agency. He told 7 On Your Side, "We're now seeing this year a 20 percent increase in passport applications over last year."
To understand why, you have to go back 10 years. That's when passports for the first time were required for Americans traveling to Canada and Mexico. The number of people applying for passports spiked.
"We added 17 million a year at that time. We're now running about 17 million this year," Tyler explained.
Those passports are now expiring and many are now applying for renewals. By the end of the surge, the number of passport applications could hit 20 million.
Here are three things you need to know to avoid the rush:
- Apply by mail and your passport should arrive in about in six weeks.
- Only go to a passport office to speed up your request. Expedited requests will cost you an extra $60.
- Make an appointment to cut down on the wait time.
"We try our best to keep in under an hour for anyone who walks in. If you have an appointment, you're almost certain to be her for less than an hour," Tyler said.
They've also added Saturday hours at passport offices inside some post offices including a branch in San Rafael.
"It's walk in service only. We'll do anything from name changes to lost forms to renewals," San Rafael Postmaster Erika Garro said.
Important reminders: Some countries don't accept passports with less than six months' time left on your passport. So renew early. Also the main passport office serving Northern California has moved to the Federal Building in San Francisco.
Click here for how to make an appointment and how to apply for a passport. No online applications are accepted.