updated 12:26 PM CET, Nov 26, 2021

State Dept: 'Expired U.S. passports okay for now, in certain circumstances'

U.S. citizens currently overseas whose passports expired "on or after Jan. 1, 2020" may be able to use their expired passport "for direct return travel to the U.S." until the end of this year, the State Department announced on Monday.

The new rule applies to U.S. citizens around the world, and was introduced in order to "alleviate travel difficulties and unprecedented appointment backlogs created by the global Covid-19 pandemic," the State Department said in a statement.

"Certain criteria apply, and we encourage U.S. citizens to confirm their eligibility for traveling on an expired passport at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/covid-19-information.html  prior to finalizing travel arrangements," the State Department statement added. 

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (DHS CBP) officers will accept for admission certain expired U.S. passports, thereby assisting U.S. citizens who have been affected by appointment backlogs at embassies and consulates overseas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Only regular, as opposed to temporary, expired passports will be accepted, and the passport may not be damaged, and must be in the traveler’s possession at the time of travel. And babies born overseas to American parents who have not yet been issued a passport or an official record of a child's claim to U.S. citizenship, known as a Consulare Report of Birth Abroad, don't qualify for this exemption. 

Announcement coincides with global vaccine scramble

News of the U.S. government's willingness to allow Americans to return home on expired passports comes as media reports around the world have reported the difficulties many American expats have been having in obtaining Covid-19 vaccinations, as certain countries are only providing such jabs for their own citizens, rather than for foreigners – resulting in some Americans flying home to get vaccinated.

Also, under U.S. law, even if an American has another passport, they need to present a valid American one in order to enter the U.S. – something New York-born, UK and Europe-raised UK prime minister Boris Johnson discovered by chance back in 2006, when the then-journalist attempted to enter the U.S. on a British passport, and was refused entry. (He wrote about the experience in a piece for The Spectator magazine, which began "Right. That’s it. Entre nous c’est terminé. After 42 happy years I am getting a divorce from America.") 

The American Citizens Abroad earlier this month wrote to more than half a dozen Washington lawmakers for the second time in a month about the problem "Americans living and working overseas" have been having in their efforts "to obtain a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in the foreign countries where they live and work" – as "widespread media coverage" had, ACA pointed out, been bringing to the world's attention.

Given that vaccines were "being made [available by the U.S. government] to U.S. government employees overseas, ACA went on, and given that, "as ACA noted in our [earlier] letter to you on April 12, Americans resident overseas are subject to the same U.S. taxation requirements as U.S. stateside residents.

"[Therefore], these individuals should have access to the same healthcare opportunities [as other U.S. citizens], including free and expedited access to vaccines."  

Limitations

In its announcement, the State Department noted that recently expired U.S. passports could not be used "to travel from the United States to an international destination," nor to "travel to a foreign country for any length of stay longer than an airport connection en route to the United States, or to a United States territory."

It said it also continued "to strongly recommend U.S. citizens reconsider travel abroad, and postpone their trips if possible.

We also remind U.S. citizens who wish to return to the United States that proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within 72 hours of their flight’s departure, is required for air travel to the United States.

"For those wishing to renew their passport upon their return to the United States, current processing times can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html."

One country where the decision to allow expired passports to be used is likely to be welcomed is Israel, according to a story in the Jerusalem Post.

It noted that allowing Americans currently in Israel to travel to the U.S. on their recently-expired passports would "relieve some of the massive pressure on the U.S. consular services in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem," where a "15,000-person backlog for passport renewals and visas" was noted as of last month, as a result of the reduction in appointments on offer, due to Covid-19 restrictions, and most recently, the cancellation of appointments due to the recent skirmishes between Israel and Hamas.

Earlier this month, the New York Times noted that the numbers of Americans struggling to obtain consular appointments around the world had been reported to surpass 100,000.