American Expats: You Can Return on an Expired Passport -- For Now

by Natasha Gabrielle | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on June 3, 2021

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Masked travelers going through airport customs check with passports.

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For many American expats, it's been a struggle to get a passport renewal appointment while abroad. But now some expats may be able to fly back to the states on an expired passport.

For many American expats who live and work abroad, it has been a struggle to renew their passports.

Due to the pandemic, passport renewal appointments are few and far between. Some embassies are still entirely shut down due to virus concerns, while others run on limited hours or have very limited staff. Because of this, many expats are carrying around expired passports.

The good news is expats can return to the United States on an expired passport for the time being. Check out the details below to learn more.

Expats can temporarily return to the United States with an expired passport

The State Department has been working on getting through a backlog of passport applications and passport renewal applications, but it's not moving fast enough.

According to the New York Times, in early May, it was estimated that more than 100,000 expats couldn't get the travel documents that they needed to return to the United States.

For Americans who currently live in the United States, passport processing times are delayed -- but they can at least apply for a new passport or a passport renewal by mail. But many countries abroad require an in-person meeting for a passport renewal.

Since many countries abroad still have strict COVID-19 restrictions, getting a consulate or embassy appointment can be impossible. That means expats have had to sit and wait and have been unable to fly back to the states.

Luckily, the State Department recently made an announcement that will make life easier for expats who want to return to the United States.

For the time being, American expats can return to the United States with an expired passport. This temporary change in policy impacts those who have had their passports expire on or after January 1, 2020. At this time, expired United States passports can be used to enter the United States through December 31, 2021.

However, not everyone qualifies for this exemption.

  • If you're an adult, your expired passport must have been initially valid for 10 years.
  • If you were 15 years of age or younger when your passport was issued, your passport must have been initially valid for five years.
  • Passports must be in your possession and be undamaged or unaltered.

You can check all rules regarding this temporary policy change at Travel.State.Gov to see if you qualify.

It's important to note that expired passports can't be used to travel from the United States to an international destination for any length of stay beyond an airport connection en route to the United States. That means you can't fly to another country for vacation if you plan to use an expired passport. You can only make your way back to the United States.

For so many expats stuck abroad unable to travel back home, this is a welcome change. If you're currently living abroad and have an expired passport, you may be able to head back to the states to visit family and friends and renew your passport.

Be prepared for higher travel costs

If you're planning to book a flight to head back to the United States to renew your passport, you should be aware that travel costs may now be higher. Many more people are traveling this year, and flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel expenses are now inflated as a result.

You'll want to budget some extra funds before taking a trip. One way to help you set aside travel funds is to open a separate savings account.

We also recommend using a travel rewards credit card to book your travel purchases. Doing this will allow you to earn rewards on your travel. As you continue to use your card and collect more points, you can redeem your rewards for free flights or other awards. Check out these summer travel tips so you can lessen your travel costs.

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