The U.S. government is giving a limited amount of people the opportunity to skip a lot of the hassle of renewing a passport by handling everything digitally.
The necessity of renewing a passport may only rear its head every 10 years, but the current process is complicated and laborious. Last December, President Joe Biden announced that he had tasked the Secretary of State to create a system that would use this newfangled invention called the internet.
The executive order noted that an online renewal process would improve customer experience, cut down on government paperwork and help people save time.
Eight months later, the U.S. Department of State has launched a pilot program that will allow up to 25,000 people who apply in August to renew their passports online.
If volunteers meet eligibility requirements, they can skip writing a check and save the trip to the post office to mail in their application and other documents, including their current passport.
Sending that physical passport in the snail mail to the National Passport Processing Center can leave people on edge, hoping it makes it safely to Irving, Texas.
How does Biden’s U.S. passport renewal pilot program work?
The pilot program is functioning on a first-come, first-serve basis and to be eligible, applicants’ most recent passport had to have been issued more than nine, but less than 15 years ago.
Volunteers need to be age 25 or older and must plan to use the same name, gender, date of birth and place of birth on the new passport that is on their current passport.
Does this mean people will get renewed U.S. passports quicker?
Going digital won’t necessarily mean people will get their new passports any quicker, though.
Processing time for this online pilot program will be the same as those renewed through the mail, which for a routine application is currently taking between eight and 11 weeks.
Those renewing online or through the mail can still pay $60 for expedited processing which cuts the time to five to seven weeks.
There are some other factors that would make people ineligible for this pilot program, including those needing specialty passports, citizens who live outside of the U.S. and those renewing a damaged or stolen passport.
What are the photo requirements for renewing a U.S. passport?
Since this renewal will happen on the internet, volunteers will need to be able to pay online and upload a digital passport photo.
Yes, applicants can have a friend take their photo and upload it for free instead of paying a business to snap a picture for your passport.
Of course, the photo will need to meet some size, dimension and compression requirements and will need to be in color, in a JPEG file format. And no, people cannot use a filter to make themselves look flawless or take it as a selfie.
When users upload the photo to the application, an online tool will check it for quality, crop and size it, and let people know whether it is acceptable. If the tool rejects the photo, it will provide a reason so applicants can fix the problem.
Here’s how to apply online to renew a U.S. passport
Those interested can start by creating an account at MyTravelGov. If they are one of the first 25,000 applicants who meet all the criteria, they will see an option to “Renew Passport” there after 24 hours.
If applicants aren’t one of the chosen in this phase, they may have another opportunity, according to the State Department website.
No doubt some may have reservations about putting all the important information needed to renew a passport online.
But in a day and age when we bank online, submit taxes online and find dates online, people should consider that there is no greater risk to privacy than in the myriad other ways people interact digitally.
The current process of sending a current passport and other sensitive documents through the mail could be just as insecure, if not more so.
As with any personal business people do online, those using this pilot program should ensure they are using a secure network before entering any sensitive information.
Those who meet the eligibility requirements should act fast to join this pilot program. They will help pave the way for all of us to a more efficient, secure and advanced way to renew passports in the future.
The State Department says it will open the online renewal program to the general public later this year.