News & Views of the Week


Greetings from all of us at GATEWAY CRUISES 'N TOURS:


WE ARE BACK and better than ever.

And the good news is the return of cruising to the Caribbean and Mexico from American Ports.

At this time the cruise lines are ramping up operations and will continue to comply with CDC guidelines in getting all staff vaccinated as well as doing test cruises to get certified to sail out of and to American ports.  This is a long process but with some hope and great endeavors you will see cruising from our waters in July.  Continue to stand by and we will keep you advised.

In the meantime here is other news from our world of travel.


NEWS AND VIEWS have continued during this time and we will update this section as well as the COOL POSSIBILITIES when we have the chance to do so.

Please stay safe an dhealthy and remember you will GETAWAY FROM YOUR EVERYDAY soon.

 Bill and Fred

Hawaii about to lift all entry restrictions for vaccinated U.S. visitors

By Tovin Lapan 


Jun 29, 2021



T0607WAIKIKISKYLINE_C_HR [Credit: HTA/Tor Johnson]

The Waikiki skyline in Honolulu, where most mainland visitors arrive when traveling to Hawaii. Photo Credit: HTA/Tor Johnson


Starting July 8, U.S. travelers to Hawaii will no longer be subject to pre-travel testing and quarantine requirements if they show proof of Covid-19 vaccination.

Those who were vaccinated in Hawaii have been able to travel without restrictions from the U.S. mainland since June 15; the updated regulations extend the policy to all domestic travelers coming from the mainland, no matter which state they were vaccinated in.

Earlier this month, Gov. David Ige said the restrictions would not be dropped for all domestic arrivals until Hawaii reached a 60% vaccination rate. However, the governor decided to go ahead with the plan before the state reached that threshold -- it was at about 57% on June 28 -- in order to give businesses and government agencies more time to prepare for the changes.

"We anticipate that on or about July 8, Hawaii will have achieved a 60% vaccination rate," Ige said. "Our residents have sacrificed and worked hard to get to this point, but we still have more to do. Please get vaccinated to protect yourselves and your loved ones."


T0705DAVIDIGE_C [Credit: State of Hawaii]

David Ige

"This milestone is truly something to celebrate," he added.

In order to be exempt from a 10-day quarantine and pre-travel Covid-19 testing, travelers will have to upload their vaccination records onto the state's Covid-19 Safe Travels website and bring a hard copy of their vaccination record with them, Ige said.

The governor also announced he would ease restrictions on social gatherings and restaurants.

Beginning on July 8, the maximum number of people allowed at social gatherings will increase from 10 to 25 indoors and from 25 to 75 outdoors. Restaurants will be able to operate at 75% capacity and will also now be permitted to host private parties of up to 25 guests indoors and 75 outdoors.

• Cover Story: Hawaii's tourism reset

People still must wear masks for indoor gatherings, Ige said, a rule that will likely be in place until the state exceeds the 70% vaccinated plateau.

County mayors, who joined Ige at the press conference held to announce the rollback of regulations, backed the governor's decision to do so prior to hitting the 60% benchmark, to allow for advance planning.

"One of the things we've heard from the business community is how challenging it is to recruit workers," Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami said.


Ige also confirmed Hawaii will lift all Covid-19 restrictions when Hawaii's vaccination rate reaches 70% but added it could take months to hit that mark. That includes the mandate to wear masks indoors, a requirement that will continue for now, he pointed out.

"We're glad to have worked with the governor and other mayors to define a specific date for the transitioning of statewide Covid restrictions," Hawaii County mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement released after the announcement. "By setting clear dates, we will be able to allow our overseas ohana to better plan their trips while allowing our businesses, families, and sports leagues to better prepare for the road to recovery that lies ahead."


Royal Caribbean's unvaccinated guests will face litany of restrictions

By Johanna Jainchill 


Jun 29, 2021



T0628FREEDOMSEAS_C_HR [Credit: Royal Caribbean]

The Freedom of the Seas on a test cruise earlier this month. Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean


Royal Caribbean has established restrictions for unvaccinated guests on the Freedom of the Seas cruise that departs Miami on July 2.

Unvaccinated passengers must have travel insurance to cover the possibility of contracting Covid-19, and when they board the ship, several venues will be off-limits.

The restricted bars and restaurants are Chef's Table, Izumi, Deck 3 of the main dining room, R Bar, Schooner Bar, the Pub, and Viking Crown Nightclub. There will be select times they can use the Viking Crown Lounge. 

Unvaccinated guests will not be allowed to use the Solarium Pool and Solarium Bar or the casino and casino bar.

They will not be allowed to attend the 70s Party in Studio B, the Quest gameshow, art auctions and the Red Party. They can only attend Royal Theatre shows on Deck 4 and will be given dedicated times to attend ice skating shows in Studio B.

Unvaccinated guests may not use the Vitality Spa, while the fitness center will have dedicated times for them.

On June 7, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain warned that unvaccinated adults would face restrictions on ships. It's not an issue for Royal's ships departing from the Bahamas, Cyprus, Seattle and Galveston this summer because those cruises require vaccines for eligible guests.

However, Florida law prohibits companies from requiring proof of vaccination from customers for service. Fain said on June 7 that he expected most passengers departing Florida ports to be vaccinated, but that Royal Caribbean could not require it.

Unvaccinated guests 12 and older departing a Royal Caribbean cruise from Florida are required to purchase travel insurance, effective June 29. The insurance must cover medical, travel and other related costs for Covid-19 should they test positive while on board, Royal Caribbean said.

The coverage must have a minimum of $25,000 per person in medical-expense coverage and $50,000 per person in travel expenses or Royal Caribbean's Travel Protection Program package, which includes the required coverage.
Proof of travel insurance is a condition of boarding for unvaccinated guests and must be shown at check-in. The requirement applies to sailings from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, and all bookings, except those made between March 19 and June 28, 2021.

The Freedom of the Seas' four-day itinerary departing July 2 includes calls in Nassau and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal's private destination in the Bahamas.


Royal Caribbean Opens Cruise Ship to First Responders at Surfside Condo Collapse




Royal, Caribbean, Explorer

PHOTO: Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. (photo via Flickr / Hugh Llewelyn)

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed the cruise line will offer one of its ships as a temporary home for first responders working at the scene of the Surfside condo collapse in South Florida.

Explorer of the Seas arrived at PortMiami on Thursday to host up to 600 first responders for at least a couple of weeks. The ship, which welcomed at least 80 rescue workers on Thursday, is even opening up to first responder K-9s.

The 12-story Champlain Towers South experienced a sudden partial collapse in the early morning hours on June 24. At least 18 people are dead, and 145 people are still unaccounted for as of Friday, according to CNN. Rescue efforts were put on hold Thursday as engineers assessed the structure that's still standing. However, no one has been found alive at the site since the initial hours after the collapse late last week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed 60 staff members and an additional 400 personnel across five search and rescue teams.

Completed in 2000 as Royal Caribbean's second Voyager-class ship, Explorer of the Seas can accommodate more than 3,000 guests.


Ireland To Remove Quarantine Requirement For Americans July 19

by Matt Turner

Jun 30, 2021 10:54am




Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland // Photo by pawel.gaul/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

As of July 19, U.S. visitors who have been vaccinated, have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival or have recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months will be able to visit Ireland and they will not have to quarantine.

Ireland will be following the advice of the European Union, which, earlier in June, suggested to its member states reopen to select countries, including the United States, subject to confirmation of reciprocity. While the United States has not yet officially opened its borders to Europeans, many E.U. members have announced plans to reopen to Americans, if they have not already reopened entirely.

Travelers to Ireland will need to use the E.U. Digital COVID Certificate (in either digital or paper format), proving they have been vaccinated, received a recent negative test result or have recovered from COVID in the last half-year. Your certificate will include necessary information, such as your name, date of birth, date or issue, vaccine/test/recovery history and an ID number.

Ireland plans to launch the certificate when it reopens on July 19. According to the Government of Ireland, “Teams across the public service are working together to deliver the E.U. Digital COVID Certificate in Ireland and you will be clearly notified of the steps needed to access the E.U. Digital COVID Certificate soon.” So, be sure to keep an eye out for updates before traveling.

Note: Americans can currently visit Ireland, although there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine (with few exceptions and none for tourist reasons). They still need a negative PCR test result from within 72 hours of travel, fill out a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form and take another test upon arrival free of charge.


United overhauling domestic fleet with largest jet order in its history

By Robert Silk 


Jun 29, 2021



T0705United1_HR_C [Credit: United Airlines]

United said delivered aircraft will feature a new "signature interior." Every seat will have seatback entertainment. Photo Credit: United Airlines


United Airlines has ordered 270 narrowbody aircraft for delivery by 2026.

The order, the largest in United's history, will combine with previous orders to enable the carrier to grow by approximately 200 aircraft over the next five years while expanding available seats across its U.S. network by 30%.

United also said it will grow its total inventory of domestic first-class and Economy Plus seats by approximately 75% compared to its 2019 level as it replaces 200 single-cabin, 50-seat regional jets with mainline narrowbodies.

Specifically, Tuesday's order includes 150 Boeing 737 Max-10s, 50 of the smaller 737 Max-8s and 70 Airbus A321neos. United said the aircraft will be delivered with a new "signature interior," including seatback entertainment at every seat and enough overhead bin space to accommodate one bag for every passenger. United plans to retrofit all of its older narrowbodies with the new interiors by 2025. 

United chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said economy seating won't become tighter when interiors are overhauled. 

"It's a lot more than a fleet plan that we are discussing," he said. "We are really revamping our product and we are really going to differentiate ourselves, I think, from every airline out there."

New aircraft, including ones previously on order, are scheduled to come fast. United expects to take delivery of 40 planes next year, followed by 138 in 2023. 


T0705UnitedBinSpace_C_HR [Credit: United Airlines]

United said every passenger would be able to fit one bag in the overhead bins on new narrowbody jets. Photo Credit: United Airlines

Nocella said the 737 Max 10s and Airbus A321s will increase available capacity out of runway-constrained hubs in Newark and San Francisco.

United especially aims to grow its mid-continent hubs of Chicago, Denver and Houston Bush. The carrier expects to grow up to 6% annually in those hubs in the coming years, resuming a plan to bolster its connecting schedule.

The move toward bigger airplanes will likely come at a cost to small markets in the United network. Currently, approximately one-third of United's domestic operations are flown with 50-seat planes, said Nocella. That number will be reduced to approximately 10%.

About two-thirds of single-class, 50-seat planes will be retired -- a total of about 200 planes.

Meanwhile, a fleet of larger planes will reduce United's costs per available seat mile by 8% excluding fuel, CEO Scott Kirby said. 

Larger planes also offer more passenger comfort. Nocella said the addition of many more Economy Plus and first-class seats will give United a leg up in the business travel market.

The carrier would also consider making Economy Plus its own seating class in the future, instead of the economy-class upgrade it is now.





Princess Cruises to resume U.S. departures in September

By Jamie Biesiada 


Jun 17, 2021



T0621GRANDPRINCESS_C_HR [Credit: Princess Cruises]

Princess will be back in the U.S. on Sept. 25, when the Grand Princess departs Los Angeles on a five-day Cabo San Lucas cruise. Photo Credit: Princess Cruises


Princess Cruises will resume sailing from U.S. ports in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale, starting in September.

Guests must have had their final dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine at least two weeks before their cruise departs and provide proof of vaccination. Crews will be vaccinated in accordance with CDC guidelines, Princess said. The cruise line has also implemented new protocols and enhanced sanitization onboard.

Princess will deploy eight ships between Sept. 25 and Nov. 28. The line's first sailing will be a five-day Cabo San Lucas cruise on the Grand Princess departing Los Angeles on Sept. 25.

The Majestic Princess and Grand Princess will sail from Los Angeles to the California coast, Mexico and Hawaii. The Ruby Princess will sail out of San Francisco to destinations in California, Mexico and Hawaii.

The Enchanted Princess will sail from Fort Lauderdale to the southern and eastern Caribbean. The Sky Princess, Regal Princess and Caribbean Princess will sail from Fort Lauderdale to the eastern and western Caribbean.
The Crown Princess will sail to the Panama Canal from Fort Lauderdale.

As a result of the announcement of U.S. sailings, Princess said some cruises will be canceled, as will the Island Princess' remaining Europe and transatlantic season.

Princess will price-protect a replacement voyage, or guests can opt to receive a future cruise credit of 100% of the cruise fare paid plus an additional bonus credit of 10%. Guests can also opt for a full refund.

Guests will automatically receive the option of a future cruise credit unless they request otherwise by July 17. FCCs are good for sailings through Dec. 31, 2022.

"As we continue our return to service, it is a thrill for us to be able to bring more cruise vacation options to our travel-starved guests," Princess president Jan Swartz said in a statement. "We appreciate the support of government and port officials who we worked closely with to make these travel opportunities available, in a thoughtful and safe way, for our guests."

Details on dining, entertainment and shore excursions are expected in the coming weeks.
All of Princess' ships offer the OceanMedallion, a wearable device that offers touchless embarkation and disembarkation, keyless stateroom entry and contactless commerce.




European Union Is Officially Dropping Travel Restrictions for US Tourists




Map of Europe

Europe as a region was the largest source of international travelers. (photo courtesy of Bet_Noire/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

The European Council has officially recommended today European Union (E.U.) member countries lift restrictions on non-essential travel from the U.S. That’s welcome news for the many Americans that have been holding out hope of taking a post-pandemic European vacation this summer.

Several others were also added today to the E.U.’s so-called “white list” of nations, territories and special administrative regions from which leisure travel is allowed: Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macau, North Macedonia, Serbia and Taiwan.

In a statement released Friday, the Council wrote that countries were selected for list inclusion based upon, “the epidemiological situation and overall response to COVID-19, as well as the reliability of the available information and data sources.” It also noted that the element of reciprocity is being taken into account on a case-by-case basis.

Today’s announcement essentially means that all 27 members of the E.U. bloc should shortly begin granting entry to U.S. tourists, among other foreigners. Bloomberg reported that member states will begin allowing in fully vaccinated Americans, and they may individually decide whether to also offer quarantine-free entry to unvaccinated travelers coming from white-listed countries.

The Council’s statement also advised Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican, as well as Schengen-area associated countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) to adopt its updated travel policies.

This latest move by the E.U.’s governing body should go a long way toward restoring Transatlantic travel in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, something which airlines have been pressing U.S. and E.U. officials to actively support as vaccination rates improve on both sides of the Atlantic.

Still, it’s important to note that the Council’s recommendations aren’t legally binding and that each member state is responsible for implementing these guidelines. Bloc members can also choose to impose added regulations as they see fit, including quarantine, testing or vaccination requirements.

"It’s up to every country to decide how and when to open the borders," French Embassy spokesperson Pascal Confavreux said, according to USA Today. "The European Union is the one giving the framework, but the decision comes from the states."

Americans hoping to travel to Europe any time soon should therefore check the E.U.’s reopening website for current restrictions in their intended destination.

Several European countries—including FranceSpainPortugalCroatiaGreece and Iceland—have already reopened to fully vaccinated non-E.U. travelers, including those from the U.S.

For more information, visit




US-Canada Land Borders To Remain Closed Another Month




The U.S. and Canadian national flags.

The U.S. and Canadian national flags. (Photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/KKIDD)

Despite talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 13, no deal was reached between the North American leaders about reopening their shared land border, which has remained closed to non-essential travelers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, announced on Friday via Twitter that U.S.-Canadian border restrictions would remain in effect for at least another month, saying: “in coordination with the U.S., we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the United States until July 21st, 2021,” and asserting that the government’s number one priority continues to be keeping Canadians safe.

Though Canada has remained accessible by air to U.S. travelers throughout the pandemic, a bilateral ban on non-essential land crossings was first implemented in March 2020 and has been extended on a monthly basis ever since.

During a press conference on Friday, Trudeau acknowledged that the prolonged border closure “is frustrating”, Global News reported.

The Prime Minister said that he wanted at least 75 percent of the Canadian population inoculated with their first dose and 20 percent fully vaccinated before considering reopening the land border.

According to The Hill, 65.4 percent of Canadians have had at least one dose, and 16.5 percent have been fully immunized thus far.

Though Trudeau said he realizes that fully vaccinated Canadians who badly want to travel this summer may be protected, “it does not protect the community around you from catching COVID-19 from you.”

“You are still returning to a country where we haven’t yet reached a high enough threshold of second dose vaccination,” he continued. “We are getting there, but that’s why we are looking at a phased approach to easing border restrictions.”


U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 Summit in Cornwall, England on June 11, 2021. (photo via Flickr/

Trudeau previously said that, when the U.S. and Canada do begin lifting border restrictions, proof of vaccination may be a requirement to cross.

Returning Canadian residents currently face a stringent set of reentry requirements, including a 14-day isolation period, regardless of their vaccination status. Although, Trudeau let slip last week that the government is working to loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens.

“As we have said, the government is planning measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, Permanent Residents, and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada and will provide further details on Monday, June 21,” Blair confirmed on Twitter.







Process toward reopening U.K.-U.S. air travel is underway

By Robert Silk 


Jun 10, 2021



T0614HEATHROW_C_HR [Credit: Heathrow Airports Ltd.]

Photo of plane at London Heathrow courtesy of Heathrow Airports Ltd.


President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson have agreed to establish a U.K.-U.S. working group geared toward reopening international travel. 

The group "will share expertise and provide recommendations to leaders on the return of safe and sustainable international travel, demonstrating the commitment of both countries to tackle Covid-19 together," reads a statement released jointly by the White House and 10 Downing Street following Thursday's meeting between Biden and Johnson.

"We look forward to normalizing two-way travel between our two countries," the statement also says. 

Biden and Johnson met on the eve of the G7 Summit, which begins Friday in the southwest English county of Cornwall. 

The announcement follows a Reuters report that the White House plans to convene expert working groups on reopening international travel with Canada, the EU and Mexico, as well as with the U.K.

Travel industry advocates had called for Biden and Johnson to agree to a quick U.S.-U.K. travel reopening during their Thursday meeting.









What to Expect When Traveling to Puerto Vallarta Now

Apr 20, 2021

What to Expect When Traveling to Puerto Vallarta Now

Expect enhanced health and safety protocols in Puerto Vallarta hotels, restaurants, attractions and more.
Credit: 2021 diegograndi/

A favorite Mexico-Pacific playground since the 1964 film The Night of the Iguana put it on the map, Puerto Vallarta  — like everyplace else — has been plagued by obstacles since the COVID-19 pandemic collided with the world.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta, and I was feeling anxious to return to this city; it has held a spot in my heart since the 1980s when my family had a timeshare there.

Here’s what I observed during my trip.

Safety Measures at Puerto Vallarta International Airport

From the minute I stepped into the airport, it was obvious that the local government was doing everything to provide a safe and sanitary environment by adhering to strict COVID-19 guidelines. Thermal scanners took our temperature as we entered the immigration area, and signs for social distancing and hand sanitizer stands were on display throughout. We also had to submit a health questionnaire and wear masks throughout the airport.

Hotel Safety Initiatives in Guestrooms, On-Site Offerings and Dining Venues

Then, upon arrival to the luxurious, all-inclusive Casa Velas, my home-away-from-home during my visit, my temperature was taken on arrival and a seal on the door of my suite confirmed that the space had been 100% sanitized. The resort, which closed for seven months due to the pandemic, reopened in November 2020 and was at 10% capacity at the time of my visit last month. Just off the lobby, a console held rotating slides detailing the precautions being taken for guest safety.

Safety measures were evident throughout the property, with sanitizing stations strategically placed at the pool, restaurant, spa and hallways. QR scanners were used for the menu at on-site dining venues, and napkins that cradled utensils were sealed. 

The gift shop, labyrinth and meditation pods in the botanical garden weren’t open, but the spa offered a full range of relaxing treatments that could be accessed through a QR code and booked at the front desk. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the steam, sauna and Jacuzzi were closed.

Luckily, throughout the resort, the very attentive staff made up for any missing amenities with their warm and welcoming service.


A suite at Casa Velas

A suite at Casa Velas
Credit: 2021 Michelle da Silva Richmond

Health and Safety Protocols in Popular Restaurants and Tourist Attractions

A lengthy walking tour of the small downtown revealed that COVID-19 safety precautions were
adhered to throughout the destination. Both indoors and outside, people wore masks and temperatures were always taken — usually with a wrist scanner — before allowing patrons to enter shops, bars  and restaurants. Throughout Puerto Vallarta, pop-up signs in Spanish and English also emphasized social distancing and mask-wearing.

Dinner at the romantic open-air La Cappella restaurant provided not only delicious Italian fare underscored by a romantic musical trio, but also offered a stunning sunset over Banderas Bay and a mesmerizing view of the Church of Guadalupe with its iconic crown. Tables were strategically separated, hand sanitizer was made available, and temperature checks were completed before entering.

An after-dinner stroll along the Malecon (boardwalk) and Isla Rio Cuale afforded a glimpse into life in Puerto Vallarta as it slowly, but cautiously, reopens after last year. 

While the longtime fanciful sculptures still dot the beach boardwalk, new artistic endeavors are appearing in the form of murals, tiled park benches and whimsical rock cairns along the beach. 

During my visit, I noticed restaurants, bars and shops had a modest amount of business. The popular Casa Tradicional Cocina Mexicana, in particular, served traditional Mexican food in a colorful setting complete with a vast assortment of tequila and mezcal that they playfully refer to as the “vitamin bar.” Temperatures were checked, tables were placed six feet apart, and masks had to be worn except while dining.

Popular tourism sites such as yoga retreat Xinalani, Las Caletas — movie director John Houston’s former beach hideaway — and others, are all maintaining strict COVID-19 protocols, including limited capacity.

COVID-19 Vaccination Rollouts in Puerto Vallarta

According to Luis Villasenor, tourism board director general for Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board,  Puerto Vallarta was one of the first municipalities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, resulting in healthy tourism traffic.

“The city’s robust approach to COVID-19 safety, hygiene and testing protocols, which was recognized with a Safe Travels Stamp, (plus) the consistently high standards of its tourism service providers — including resorts, restaurants, attractions and tour operators — has enabled Puerto Vallarta to remain open to international travelers,”  Villasenor said.

“(The state of) Jalisco has had a responsible and effective management in the fight against the pandemic and has been the only state in the country that dictates a plan for the remainder of the year under the premise ‘Adaptation, Coexistence and Social Responsibility’ to continue in the advancement of the reactivation and economic recovery of the state,” he added.

The day before my departure from Puerto Vallarta, Casa Velas arranged for a medical team to administer COVID-19 tests at the resort on departing guests. That evening, I received my results via email, and a printed copy was also provided to me on check-out. 

As I boarded my flight, airline staff collected another health form declaring that I was COVID-19-free; that information was transmitted to U.S. authorities at my port of entry.

While this definitely isn’t the Puerto Vallarta from my childhood, one thing was for sure: It slowly — but surely — is making a healthy comeback.

The Details
Casa Velas

Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board







What to Know If Your Passport Expires in the Next Year

The government is catching up with the backlog during the pandemic, but there are still hiccups.


September 28, 2020

All Your Passport Renewal Questions


Have you checked your U.S. passport lately? Even if you’re not considering international travel any time soon, you may want to take a look at the expiration date. Though travel agents typically recommend giving the government a few months to process a passport renewal, the timeline has, unsurprisingly, become a bit more complicated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently there's a major backlog at the U.S. Department of State, meaning travelers who need to renew will have to allow more time than usual, especially since international destinations require your passport to be valid for six months from your return date to the United States. 

We tapped a few experts to answer common questions about U.S. passport renewal right now. Read on for the advice, based on when your passport is set to expire.

How long are passport renewals taking right now?

"Due to the pandemic, expect delays in the renewal process,” says John Spence, USA president for luxury tour operator Scott Dunn

The government updates this page every Thursday with passport statistics. As of September 17, there were 934,000 passports awaiting issuance. Due to the phased reopening of U.S. passport agencies and centers, which began in June, processing time for renewed or new passports may be “substantially longer than usual,” officials say. (It took between six to eight weeks to process passport renewals in 2019, according to State Department officials.)

State Department officials report that they’ve largely worked their way through the backlog created by the COVID-19 shutdown of routine processing, with 97 percent of applications received in April, May, and June completed. Most applications are now being processed and returned to applicants within 10 weeks, they report. 

However, as of September 8, only 11 passport agencies throughout the country were open in phase two—meaning services are still greatly reduced, and therefore wait times increased.

What about expedited service?

Pre-COVID, you could pay $60 to receive your passport renewal faster, within about 10 to 12 days. In March, the government temporarily suspended expedited passport processing for customers applying at acceptance facilities or renewing passports via mail. As of September 28, expedited service has resumed, with a slower turnaround time of 4-6 weeks. 

Do I have to mail my passport in to be renewed?

As of now, yes. Mailing your passport in—with uncertainty over when it may be returned—is daunting. But within seven to 10 business days of mailing it in, you should be able to track your application status through this page, upon entering your last name, date of birth, last four digits of your social security number, and a security code.

It’s smart to always take a photo of your passport before sending it in for renewal, adds Spence. “If your passport happens to get lost in the mail, you at least have a copy to refer to, and this will save you additional time and effort to renew it.”

My passport expires in less than six months. What should I do?

Simply put: Start the renewal process immediately, says Spence. 

If a last-minute emergency trip comes up, there's an in-person option. Passport agencies and centers are only open to assist customers who need a passport in the next 72 hours for a life-or-death emergency—such as a serious illness, injury or death in your immediate family, including a parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling or grandparent. You must make an appointment in advance at a facility near you for emergency service (walk-ins are not allowed).

What if my passport is good for another year?

The experts are divided on this one. Wendy Murphy-Murphy, a travel consultant with global agency Frosch, recommends waiting for the country to enter phase three before attempting to renew your passport, as this step will enable third parties to enter passport offices in person. 

On the other hand, Bahar Schmidt, founder and CEO of high-end travel resale marketplace Eluxit, says you should start the renewal process immediately if your passport expires in 2021. “If anyone has plans to travel internationally [next year], take the time and apply for one now so it is ready when [you are] ready to travel,” she says. “It’s a minimum of three months [now] to get a passport and can take up to six months in some cases.”

Should I ever let my passport expire?

“Never let them expire,” says Murphy-Murphy. Ideally, your passport should be good for a full year upon your return from any trip. Considering the status of your passport should now be the initial step before considering any travel plans, she adds.

If your passport is expired, you are eligible to renew your passport by mail for up to five years after the expiration date. After five years, you’ll be required to re-apply in person. But considering many of us will be in the skies as soon as we are able and feel safe, you might want to get moving on that renewal ASAP.