One type of person applies for a passport well in advance of any possible travel date, while another type waits until the last minute to get that application in. Regardless of which description fits you, you're likely to start worrying if a full six weeks passes and your passport hasn't arrived. The "routine" processing time is four to six weeks, so what can happen to cause a delay beyond that period? Unfortunately, the answer is plenty. Many different issues can result in passport application problems.

Passport Processing Times

When you apply for a passport for the first time, you apply in person at a passport acceptance facility. The application form to complete is DS-11, which is also the form to use if your prior passport was lost, stolen or badly damaged.

You must also bring proof of identity, proof of citizenship and a passport photo that meets the strict guidelines. While there, you sign the application and pay the fee. Then you wait. Processing time for a routine passport, from the time you apply to the day it arrives in the mail at your home, is four to six weeks. Unless it is delayed of course.

A week to 10 days after you submit your application, you can check its status online or by phone. If a full six weeks passes after the application submission and the status still shows "pending," you can be sure that there were some passport application problems of one sort or another.

Passport Application Problems

The cause of the delay can be something improper in the application. This can involve failing to provide a birth certificate with a raised seal, using a form without a barcode, paying an incorrect fee amount, failing to provide court documents proving a name change, or submitting a passport photo that was in violation of the photo submission rules.

The delay may also indicate that something in the background check is giving the issuing agency pause. This could be a criminal record or even unpaid child support in an amount exceeding $2,500 that has been reported by the child support agency in your state. It could also simply be due to a backlog or a processing error that resulted in loss or misplacement of your application for a period of time. Other possible reasons include natural disasters, political issues like international crises and even stacked-up government holidays. All of these things can cause delays in passport processing and delivery, but the list is by no means exhaustive.

Figuring Out the Problem

To learn what the problem is in the easiest and fastest way, call the National Passport Information Center during business hours at 877-487-2778 or 888-874-7793 (TDD/TTY) to speak with a customer service representative. If you're on the West Coast, keep in mind that the East Coast office is on Eastern Standard Time.

Expediting Your Passport 

You can avoid the problem altogether by expediting your passport processing. Just by paying a fee, you can expedite the processing of your passport so it arrives in two to three weeks instead of four to six weeks. If you can prove that you absolutely require a passport very quickly by showing, for example, a ticket for travel departing within the next few weeks, the Passport Agency can deliver a passport within eight business days. For a life or death emergency, you can sometimes get the passport within 24 hours.