** LEGAL UPDATE **
If you are a U.S. citizen hoping to apply for or renew your passport, you might know that, in the past, this could be done in as little as a day. One could visit a passport agency in person and request expedited processing.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the picture. For one thing, you might want to avoid international travel as much as possible, for reasons of your health and that of others.
Also, the U.S. State Department (DOS) has announced that it is scaling back operations at its Regional Passport Agencies and acceptance facilities (such as U.S. post offices and libraries). Many will be temporarily closing.
Going forward, the offices that remain open will, for the most part, handle only in-person, expedited applications if they are urgent. That means they're coming from people with a qualified life or death emergency that requires travelling internationally within 72 hours, namely a serious illnesses, injury, or death involving a member of one's immediate family. (See the DOS's Life-or- Death Emergencies page.)
Most prospective applicants will have to settle for regular passport processing. This can be done by mail, unless it's your first passport. The standard processing time tends to be about six to eight weeks, but that's likely to slow down, given the stresses to staffing and other functions caused by this pandemic.
Somewhat confusingly, the DOS also says it's possible to apply in person for standard passport processing; but the trick is that you'll need to find a facility that's actually open for this, and make an appointment.
If you have a qualified emergency, be ready to provide documentary evidence of that fact, and of your planned international travel. Such evidence might include, for example, a death or mortuary certificate for a close family member, or signed letters (in English) from a hospital or physician explaining that a family member is experiencing an urgent health condition such that you need to be there, fast.
To make an appointment for an emergency passport, call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 during normal business hours, or see the DOS website for further instructions.
As a U.S. citizen, you will be allowed to return to the U.S. even if you go to a country from which other travelers are barred. You might, however, face long lines, screening, and quarantine upon return.
Effective Date: March 27, 2020