American citizens abroad who saw their passports expire during the Covid 19 pandemic can now return to the United States before renewing their travel documents, a change in policy announced by the State Department on Monday.
The decision, which applies to Americans currently outside the country who hold passports that expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, comes after reports that more than 100,000 Americans abroad are struggling to get consular appointments.
In many countries, American citizens who need to renew their passports must do so in person at a U.S. embassy or consulate. But many of these offices are hampered by Covid 19 restrictions and staff reductions, and some are closed to all but emergencies. Difficulties and delays in obtaining appointments for renewal have left many Americans without a way back to the United States.
Some American emigrants have turned to immigration lawyers for help. Others have paid high fees to smugglers and passport couriers to obtain hard-to-reach embassy appointments.
The State Department’s new expired passport exemption applies to both adults, whose documents are valid for 10 years, and children, whose passports expire after 5 years. It only applies when entering the United States; travelers leaving the country must still present current documents.
Newborn parents should note that the exemption does not apply to babies born abroad who have not yet obtained a passport or an official document of the child’s eligibility for U.S. citizenship, known as Consular Report of Birth Abroad.
To qualify for the waiver, citizens must have their expired passport and fly to the United States either directly or on a connecting flight with a short layover. Expired passports cannot be used for travel from one foreign country to another.
All U.S. citizens returning to the country will still be required to provide proof of a negative Covid 19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure.