How long does it take to get a passport? (and why you must check it before booking your holiday)

Wondering how long does it take to get a passport amid news of delays at the Passport Office? This guide explains what you need to know and why you should wait to have your passport sorted before booking your travel

Find out how long does it take to get a passport before booking your holiday to avoid disappointment if you face passport delays
(Image credit: getty images)

If you’re planning on booking a holiday abroad, how long does it take to get a passport is an important question to ask yourself before you finalise your booking. 

After the pandemic, it’s unsurprising that, as summer rolls around, millions are planning on heading further afield on holiday. But while some holidaymakers are facing flight cancellations (opens in new tab) through no fault of their own, others are seeing their holiday plans come to an abrupt end by not having a valid passport (opens in new tab) before they book their travel.

If you find your passport needs renewing, replacing or if you need to get a passport for a child, it’s crucial to get this sorted before you book your holiday. Should the processing of your passport application be delayed at the Passport Office, you may find yourself unable to travel, and worse still, unable to get your money back on your holiday.

Kalpana Fitzpatrick (opens in new tab), Editor of our sister brand The Money Edit (opens in new tab), says: “Your passport must be valid for at least three months from the date you leave the country you're travelling to, and it can’t be older than 10 years or more the day after you leave the country you’re going to. 

"Therefore, If you think you may need a new passport, act fast. With reports suggesting that the passport application delays could get worse, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get a new passport in time for your holiday.”

How long does it take to get a passport? 

Getting a passport usually means a three week turnaround from when the Passport Office receives your application. But with the Passport Office being swamped by applications, the latest advice is to allow up to ten weeks for applications and renewals.

According to its website, “there is no backlog in passport processing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however we are now seeing unprecedented demand, as more than 5 million people delayed applying for passports during COVID-19 because of restrictions on international travel”.

And a further 9.5 million of us are expected to apply for a passport this year.

In March the Passport Office processed over a million new passport applications, the highest number on record and is taking on more staff to cope with the influx of new applications, with an extra 500 staff over the past year and recruiting another 700 as well as increasing the number of appointments for its ‘Fast-Track’ services.

What’s the fastest way to get a passport? 

If you need a passport in a hurry, there are two services to choose from. You can use the Online Premium Service (opens in new tab), which means it may be possible to get a passport within two days of applying.  

With this option, you’ll need to apply online and book an appointment to go along in person to one of the Passport Offices (opens in new tab), where you can then get a passport within 30 minutes.  

You’ll pay more for this premium service – this costs £177 for a standard passport, and you can only use this service to renew an adult passport issued after 31st December 2001.  This option is not available for anyone applying for their first passport.

The second option is the 1 week Fast Track Service (opens in new tab). This costs £142 for a standard adult passport and £122 for a child passport.  

Once again you can only use this service for renewals, to change your personal details, replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport or to apply for a child’s first passport.  

In the event you urgently need a passport due to a bereavement or needing urgent medical treatment abroad, call the Passport Adviceline (opens in new tab)

Who needs a passport? 

If you want to travel outside the UK, you will need a valid passport.  An adult passport lasts for ten years and it’s five years for a child one. However, even if you’ve already got a passport, check its expiry date, as you may need to have between three to six months left, depending on the country you’re visiting.  

Across Europe, you typically need at least 3 months left, and with countries including Egypt and Thailand, you should have six months left from the date of arrival.

You can check entry requirements for the country you’re visiting, including any visas needed, on the Government website (opens in new tab)

How to apply for a passport

You can apply for an adult passport if you’re a British National, aged sixteen or over, and never had a passport before, or your last passport was issued before 1st January 1994. There are different ways to apply, depending on whether you’re applying for your first passport (opens in new tab), renewing an existing one (opens in new tab), or need to replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport. (opens in new tab) 

If your passport is damaged, and has what the Passport Office calls more than ‘reasonable wear and tear’, you may find it’s not accepted.   So in the event the dog’s chewed it, or you’ve spilt coffee over the pages, it’s worth considering a replacement to avoid being turned away at the boarding gate.

You can apply for an adult or child passport online through the official Government website (opens in new tab) or with a paper application form. With paper applications, you’ll need to send in two identical passport sized photos and have them verified to confirm your identity.  

You can get a paper application from any Post Office that offers the Passport Check and Send service (opens in new tab), or by calling the Passport Adviceline (opens in new tab).

Using the Passport Check and Send service costs an additional £16, but can speed up the passport issuing process, in the event you have made a mistake.  It’s available for both online and paper applications.

If you’re applying for the first time, depending on when you were born (opens in new tab), you’ll need to provide your full, and original, birth or adoption certificate, and in some cases a full birth certificate for one of your parents, along with other documentation and photos. 

How to apply for a child’s passport

You can apply for a child’s passport online or via a paper form, similarly to an adult passport. The application for a child’s passport must be completed by someone with parental responsibility for the child. You will need to provide details of both parents when applying for the passport. 

If you have adopted or fostered a child, then there is extra advice on the Government’s website (opens in new tab).

How much does a passport cost? 

If you apply online, it’s £75.50 for a standard passport and £85 for paper applications. The child prices, for those under sixteen are £49 and £58.50.

If you travel a lot, you can pay more for a Frequent Traveller passport, which has 50 pages, instead of the standard 34 - and costs £85.50 for adults or £95 by post.

For children under sixteen, a Frequent Traveller passport costs £59 online or £68.50 by post. 

If you were born on, or before 2nd September 1929, you can get a free passport. 

OnlineBy post
Adult passport£75.50£85
Child passport (under 16)£49£58.50
Adult Frequent Traveller passport£85.50£95
Child Frequent Traveller passport (under 16)£59£68.50

What happens if your passport doesn’t arrive on time? 

You should wait until you have a valid passport in your possession to book your holiday. That way, if your new or renewed passport gets caught up at the Passport Office, your trip isn’t jeopardised. 

The advice from the Passport Office is clear too- “you should not book travel until you have a valid passport – your new passport will not have the same passport number as your old one”.    

If you’ve already booked a trip and your passport doesn’t arrive in time, which means you can’t go, don’t expect your travel insurance to pay out. While most policies will cover lost or stolen passports, it’s very unlikely any will pay out due to delays at the Passport Office.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (opens in new tab), said: "The primary purpose of travel insurance is to cover the costs of emergency medical treatments or repatriation should the worst happen.

“Complying with any border requirements is the responsibility of the person travelling, and policies generally do not cover delays in obtaining or renewing your passport”.

And don’t expect a refund from your travel company either.  If however, you’ve paid more for a flexible flight ticket, or booked accommodation with a free cancellation option, you may be able to reschedule your trip, without incurring extra costs.

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound. Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!