For many, reading about passport protocol (and upcoming passport changes) can be about as exciting as watching paint dry, especially when there’s so much other exciting travel news regarding 2017, including the year’s most popular cities, the 50 top hotels and resorts in the world, and—yep—the best places to travel in the coming year. Yet to get to many of those very countries, cities, and hotels, you need a passport—and should probably be aware of how things will shake out for those little blue books (or, depending where you’re from, red or green books) in 2017. Here’s what you should know.
Passport applications will increase (again)
We said it in 2016, and we’ll say it again for 2017: If you don’t have a passport or need to renew yours within six months, go ahead and apply now. Why? Chalk it up largely to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was put into effect in 2007 and mandated that Americans entering the U.S. by air from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda would be required to have a passport. Ten years later, all of these documents are expiring, which means more applications; and the January 2018 implementation of the Real ID Act (and the confusion surrounding it) has also led to an increased number of applications from travelers unsure whether their driver’s license will be accepted as a valid form of ID for domestic travel. Add to that a rush of election-dismayed travelers looking to get out of Dodge, and the State Department will be a near-constant busy season. Officials say they expect 20 million passport renewal requests in 2017.
Passports will be more secure…
If you already thought the U.S. passport was the most secure in the world, think again. The U.S. is a few steps behind other countries in terms of biometric security, but it’s making small advances in coming year: though this so-called “Next Generation” passport has been discussed since 2015, Mike Holly, Senior Advisor for International Affairs in the State Department’s passport office, told the Professional Association for Design that late 2017 will finally see its debut. As we previously reported, the passport will have an embedded data chip on the information page protected by a polycarbonate coating; this will help prevent your book from getting wet and bending, and—should your passport be stolen—the chip will keep people from Jason Bourne-ing your page and falsifying an identity. The passport number will also be laser cut as tapered, perforated holes through pages—just one of several components of the “Next Generation” passport, including an artwork upgrade, new security features such as a watermark, “tactile features,” and more “optically variable” inks. In other words: Some designs on pages will be raised, and ink—depending on the viewing angle—will appear to be different colors.
…with stricter rules for application
As of November 1, 2016 glasses are no longer allowed in passport photos, as glares reflecting off the lenses led to the State Department turning away thousands of applications because of bad photos. You’re still allowed to wear glasses in your photo if you have a medical condition (just submit a doctor’s note along with your application), and given that the rule is still relatively fresh, the State Department says applicants who did send in a photo of themselves wearing glasses can resubmit photos without paying the application fee again. Expect this leniency to change, however, and look for continued guidance on proper photo protocol as officials look to cut down their time turning away applicants. So long, Warby Parker frames.
Come 2017, passport pages will reportedly also have numbers on them, which should help travelers keep track of roughly how much time they have to renew. (Some countries will not accept passports with fewer than four pages remaining.) Given that the government did away with extra passport pages in January 2016, a step like this—further controlling the pages—makes sense.
Renewal may get easier
According to Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the process by which we renew our passports may also be getting a makeover. Quoted in U.S. News and World Report, Sprague said that a new platform that will allow people to renew their passports online is “in the works,” for 2017, and could mean the end of those late-night trips to Walgreens photo booths to rush your application off the next morning. Can’t wait until 2017? Worry not: Passport-expediting company It’sEasy allows users to take a selfie as their passport photo and submit their entire application through an app.