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Passports, TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Real ID: What you need to know

Passengers stand in line as they wait to

Passengers stand in line as they wait to pass through a TSA security checkpoint at JFK International Airport in New York.  Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted much of the travel industry, but many government services are still available for travelers who need to renew documents or program memberships. The federal agencies in charge of passports and the Trusted Traveler programs are still processing first-time applications and renewals, with some alterations. Here is an update on the latest protocol and procedures.

- Passport: The State Department is accepting passport renewals, which do not require in-person interviews; you can mail in all of the required forms and payment. First-time applicants must appear in person at a passport acceptance facility, such as a public library or post office. Many of these businesses may be closed or not accepting passport applications to comply with a local ordinance, so call in advance. Do not disregard guidelines in your area by venturing outside: In most cases, dropping off a passport is not considered essential at this time.

The agency warns that the processing time could be longer than the usual six to eight weeks. In addition, the department is suspending expedited service and closing more than 20 passport agencies around the country and Puerto Rico with one exception: Officials will still assist Americans with "mission-critical" activities. If you have an immediate emergency (within 72 hours), such as a serious illness or death, that requires travel abroad, you can make an appointment at a passport agency or center. Bring proof of the emergency, such as a note from the mortuary or physician, to the facility, along with your application, supporting documents and travel reservations. To make an appointment, call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.Eastern time and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 202-647-4000 during nonbusiness hours.

Applicants who requested expedited service on or before March 19 will still receive their book within two to three weeks. Travelers who applied in person at a passport facility on or before March 19 will be offered a choice of picking up their passport or having it sent by mail.

- TSA precheck: "The processing of submitted enrollment applications has not been impacted by covid-19," said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. "For TSA PreCheck applicants, there is currently no delay in receiving a Known Traveler Number if an applicant is approved."

Many enrollment centers remain open, though they may have altered their hours. Be mindful that the centers are also assisting "mission-critical" programs, such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program and the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Threat Assessment program.

To locate a facility, use the Find an Enrollment Center tool on the agency's website, which includes the address and hours of operation - or, alternatively, a notice of its closure. To help employees control the number of arrivals, applicants should make an appointment. If the facility cancels your appointment, you can rebook at another location, depending on availability.

In response to the coronavirus, staff members are sanitizing their hands between customers and disinfecting surfaces in high-traffic areas as well as frequently touched objects, such as door handles and counters.

New applicants must submit an online form before they can make an appointment for an interview. (The whole process takes about 20 minutes.) Current members can renew online, and in most cases, TSA can complete the transaction without an in-person meeting. In the event that you need to appear in person - to provide updated information or repeat a fingerprint test - an automated notification will appear on your computer screen.

- Global entry: Customs and Border Protection shuttered its Trusted Traveler program enrollment centers through at least May 1, but its Enrollment on Arrival program remains active. With the program, CBP officers conduct interviews at dozens of airports around the country and in several foreign airports, such as Toronto Pearson International Airport, Dublin Airport and Grand Bahama International Airport.

"Conditionally approved" travelers arriving in the international terminal of a participating airport should look for signs directing them to the officers who conduct Global Entry interviews. To qualify for an interview, the agency must have approved your online application and sent you a notification that you are eligible for an interview. Make sure you bring a valid passport (if you possess several, bring all of them) and proof of residency, such as a driver's license or utility bill.

Travelers who need to renew their membership can go online, to their TTP System account. You can renew your membership up to one year before the expiration date. CBP may or may not require an interview.

- Real ID: The administration has extended the Oct. 1, 2020, deadline for Real ID, which will replace driver's licenses as the form of identification accepted by TSA airport security. The coronavirus outbreak has forced Department of Motor Vehicles offices across the country to close or limit services. Last week, the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, said TSA will give states an additional 12 months to comply with the law. The new deadline is Oct. 1, 2021.

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