US passport renewal from Canada
January 4, 2022 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm a US citizen living in Canada. I need to renew my US passport, which expires in June 2022, and I'm finding the process frustrating, so I'm looking for advice from anyone who's done this recently.

As far as I can tell, I have two options:
  • Renew by mail, with a supposed processing time of 4-6 weeks, plus shipping, or
  • Renew in person at a US embassy or consulate
I'd prefer to renew in person because I don't want to be without my passport for an unknown length of time, but it seems impossible to get an appointment. I've checked this appointment scheduling system periodically over the past few months and I've never found a single available appointment in Montreal, Toronto, or Ottawa, which are the locations I could reasonably get to.

Otherwise I'll have to renew by mail, but I'm concerned about COVID affecting processing times and definitely don't want to be stuck without my passport for, say, 3 months.

I have three questions:
  • Has anyone here renewed by mail from Canada during the last year or so? If you did, how long did the processing take?
  • Is there some secret to getting an in-person appointment at a consulate? For example, what time are new appointment slots posted?
  • Is there any other renewal pathway I'm not considering? I have trusted family in the US who are willing to help me with this process if needed. I'd prefer to keep third-party expediting services out of this but if that's absolutely the best way, I'll consider it.
Thanks for any help or advice.
posted by mekily to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any other renewal pathway I'm not considering?

Have you considered applying for a US Passport Card? You can have both a passport card and a passport book at the same time. While the passport card can't be used for international air travel, it is valid for land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry between the US and Canada. You could apply for a passport card by mail, wait to receive it, then apply to renew your passport book by mail. For the 4 to 6 weeks you are without your passport book, you can use your passport card as proof of US citizenship, as an identity document, or for land or sea border crossing to or from the US.
posted by RichardP at 1:33 PM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: I just looked for February in Toronto and there seemed to be quite a few openings. I'd double-check pronto.
posted by praemunire at 1:33 PM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: I think praemunire is correct — I too see open passport services appointments in February 2022 in Toronto.
posted by RichardP at 1:36 PM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: And because I was curious, I checked too and triple agree - there are 14 appointments on Feb 7 in Toronto and more during the rest of the month. There aren't any in Ottawa though.
posted by cgg at 1:38 PM on January 4, 2022

Best answer: FYI, it's taking WAY longer than 4-6 weeks for processing. Think months. A friend had to wait nearly a year.
posted by cooker girl at 1:42 PM on January 4, 2022

It's worth noting that there are US passport agencies in both Buffalo and Detroit. You might be trapped in the US while waiting. And you might need to make a throw-away flight reservation to qualify for an urgent appointment if you need one. As of October, a mail renewal from the US for me took just a bit under 4 weeks, but I might have gotten lucky.
posted by eotvos at 1:45 PM on January 4, 2022

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the heads-up on the February appointments in Toronto, all! I am pretty sure those weren't available when I checked just before posting this question, but who knows. I've just snagged an appointment for early Feb.
posted by mekily at 1:52 PM on January 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

For domestic renewals, at least, the current processing times are far better than I expected. I paid for expedited processing, mailed my renewal Dec 6 (from Wisconsin), it arrived at the processing facility on Dec 10, and the new passport was in my mailbox on December 30. The quoted times for expedited are 5-7 weeks from receipt at their end, and I got it in just under 3 weeks, including the Christmas holidays. I'm not sure if there's additional processing for international passports beyond international mail, but the backlog clearly has come down in recent months.
posted by yuwtze at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2022

For what it's worth, I also reported that I had travel plans starting on January 15 (true at the time) on my DS-82, so I suppose I may not have been put at the back of the line.
posted by yuwtze at 2:05 PM on January 4, 2022

Response by poster: Apologies for the threadsitting -- I just have one follow-up question: When you renew in-person at a US consulate in Canada, do you walk out with your new passport same-day, or do they mail it to you? If the latter, how long does that processing take? The consulate website is surprisingly unclear on that point.
posted by mekily at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2022

I can't help with the passport question but when you go to the US Embassy, you can't bring in anything with you for security reasons. This ask mefi post asked where to store your things when you go there; there are some good suggestions.
posted by foxjacket at 2:32 PM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also a US citizen in Canada, I renewed my passport by mail last year in December (so also during a big covid spike, when they were still playing massive catch up from the initial lockdown) and it came back in 4 weeks, no issues at all.
posted by ananci at 8:17 PM on January 4, 2022

This was a few years ago so it might be longer, but the last time I went to renew my US passport at the Toronto consulate, I had the new one by mail in about a week.

PS they made me throw out a flashlight, down the street at the nearest garbage can. When they say no electronics, they mean nothing powered.
posted by wellred at 5:34 AM on January 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

FWIW I renewed my passport in November when they were still quoting 8-10 weeks for processing and it didn't take anywhere near that long, but I'm in the US so I don't know how much of a factor your location will be. I mailed my application on November 4 and received my new passport on November 26 (the day after US Thanksgiving; USPS first claimed it was "out for delivery" on the 23rd, but unsurprisingly bungled that) . I did not pay for expedited service and had no upcoming travel.
posted by fedward at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2022

I'd like to add my two cents as a dual citizen in Canada. When my passport needed to be renewed the summer of 2019, I opted to send it and the paperwork in to the nearest US location to me as per instructions at because it's difficult as a carless person to get to Ottawa or Toronto to do it in person. There was tracking, and a few months I received an envelope from the US passport office letting me know that hey, we received the paperwork but where is the passport? So somewhere in the interim between posting it and the office, my passport was stolen. The office was spectacularly unhelpful as they had no idea where it went. They acknowledged that yes they received my envelope, but alas there was no passport. I had to report it as stolen and frankly, I have the admitted privilege as a dual citizen to not technically use it because I have a valid Canadian one. So I refuse to get a new one because I am still angry, and I don't really need it to travel as Canada is where I live permanently.

Basically: don't make my mistake and figure out to get to a consulate if you can.
posted by Kitteh at 3:28 PM on January 5, 2022

Response by poster: An update for anyone who stumbles on this thread in the future: I was able to submit a passport renewal application at the Toronto consulate, BUT with a big caveat.

I had upcoming international travel 3 weeks after my appointment, which I indicated on the form. I was expecting that they would expedite the renewal and mail me my new passport before that date.

Instead, they let me keep my old passport and told me I’ll need to come back to the consulate in person to pick up the new passport (whenever it’s ready) and cancel my old passport. Which is very inconvenient since I live in Montreal.

Still better than the alternative of being without a passport for an unknown length of time… but not ideal either.
posted by mekily at 9:19 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

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