If Your PassportIf you need to renew your passport – either because it will expire this year or because you’ve run out of stampable pages – the U.S. State Department says you should do it now. The department believes that 2016 is going to be a big year for passport applications and renewals and is encouraging travelers to get started on that paperwork (and take a set of those flattering square pictures) as soon as possible.

The New York Times says that officials are expecting to spend the next two years being overwhelmed by the number of renewals, in part because the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was implemented almost ten years ago. When that law went into effect in January 2007, it required U.S. citizens to have a passport in order to travel to all countries, including Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda and, as a result, millions of people hurriedly applied for passports. Now millions of passports are inching toward their expiration dates, and the State Department doesn’t want a rerun of what it had to endure a decade ago.

Beth Finan, a press officer for the Bureau of Consular Affairs says:

“Nearly 10 years after implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the associated surge of passport applications, the Bureau of Consular Affairs is preparing for an anticipated surge as those applicants renew their passports. We encourage passport applicants to apply for or renew U.S. passports well ahead of planned travel, as we anticipate longer than average wait times for passport processing over the coming months.”

Finan said that the Department is expecting “record breaking demand” for passports through 2018 and, right now, it will take roughly six weeks for a passport renewal, which is two weeks longer than the process took last year. You can also request an expedited passport, which will take three weeks to process and cost an extra $60 on top of the standard $110 renewal fee.

International travelers should also be aware that some countries will not allow them to enter if their passports expire within six months – or if their passports don’t have a certain number of blank pages (you can review your destination’s entry and exit requirements on the State Department’s Country Information page). Even if you can say “I’ll renew it as soon as I get back” in a foreign language, you probably aren’t getting past the arrivals terminal.

According to Finan, the State Department expects to handle 17.4 million passport applications during the 2016 fiscal year, a number that is estimated to increase to 20.9 million in 2017.

This article is brought to you by the Sonoran Resorts Sales Group, www.sonoranresorts.mx, Jim Ringquist, Director of Sales and Marketing.