Applying for a passport in Canada? What you need to know

As summer grows ever closer, Canadians are becoming more and more interested in travelling again — but with reported delays in acquiring or renewing a passport unlikely to end any time soon, understanding the process is key.

At the moment, if you visit the page on the government website pertaining to passports, a notification at the top of the page reveals that they are “experiencing very high call volumes right now.”

“Wait times are longer than usual,” the alert states. “If you do not have travel plans in the next 2 weeks, we suggest you wait to call us.”

Some of the delays are due to the increased interest in travel compared to the last two years of the pandemic. Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Service Canada issued around 363,000 passports, but from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, the agency issued 1,273,000 passports, according to a spokesperson.

One family that began renewing their passports in February told CTV News that they didn’t receive the last one until April, just days before a trip for which passports were required.

So how does one renew or acquire a passport in Canada, and how are those processes currently being affected?

RENEWING A PASSPORT

QUALIFYING

Only adult passports can be renewed, according to the Canadian government’s website. Those under 16 will need to apply for a new child’s passport instead of a renewal.

Adult passports can only be renewed if they have were issued within the last 15 years, and have the same gender marker, name, date of birth and place of birth as you would like on your new passport. Otherwise, an adult must apply for a new passport.

If you’re still unsure if you qualify for renewal, the government has a quiz you can take on their site to ensure you fit the requirements.

WHAT YOU NEED ON YOUR APPLICATION

All applicants for a renewal need to fill out an application form (which can be found online), have passport photos taken, and find two references who are not a family member and who have known you for at least two years. They also can’t be a spouse or common-law partner, or anyone related to a spouse or common-law partner, and they must be older than 18 and agree to you using their name and contact information on your application.

The photographer who takes the passport photos must write their name, their complete address and the date when the photos were taken on the back of one of the photos.

You must also turn in your old passport with the application, with the exception of cases in which it was lost or stolen.

This is a new development – prior to last month, if your passport was stolen, lost or had expired more than a year ago, you would have to apply for a new passport. Part of this was because the renewal application asks for the date your passport was issued, as well as the expiration date and the passport number, which many would not know without their old passport at hand. But at the end of March, the government announced that if your passport was stolen, lost, damaged, or had expired within the last 15 years, you would now be able to apply for a renewal, which is much simpler than applying for a new passport.

“As international travel resumes, we need to continue to modernize and improve our passport services to make sure we meet the needs of Canadians,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a press release at the time.

To renew a passport or apply for one, it costs $120 or $160, depending on whether you are applying for a five or ten year passport.

For those who need a passport quickly, there are additional fees associated with obtaining a passport in under 10 days. If you are required to show proof of travel, this can include an airline ticket, a travel itinerary with proof of payment, or proof of death or illness in the family that requires immediate travel.

“Depending on the reason for your travel, you may need to show further proof that your situation is urgent,” the website states.

APPLYING FOR A NEW PASSPORT

QUALIFYING

To qualify for a new passport, you must be a Canadian citizen and older than 16 years of age to apply for an adult passport. Children under the age of 16 can receive a child’s passport, which last for a maximum of five years and cannot be renewed.

Always check first to see if you qualify to renew your adult passport, as it is a simpler process than applying for a brand new one.

WHAT YOU NEED ON YOUR APPLICATION

There are many more requirements for a new passport than for a renewal.

The first thing all applicants need is to fill out a passport application form, which can be found online.

Then you’ll need one piece of proof of Canadian citizenship. Crucially, you have to submit original documents, not photocopies or photos, which will be returned to you once verified. Things that count as proof include a birth certificate if you were born in Canada, a Canadian citizenship certificate, a certificate of naturalization, a certificate of registration of birth abroad or a certificate of retention of Canadian citizenship.

There may also be province or territory-specific documents which can be accepted as proof of citizenship. Proof of citizenship can have either your new or old name on it if you are seeking a passport with a new name.

Aside from the proof of citizenship, you also need to provide at least one document proving your identity (more are required if you are changing your name). Documents that count include driver’s licenses, health cards, military IDs, and foreign passports, among others. These should include your name, date of birth, photo and signature, and if you have no one ID with all of these, you can submit more than one piece of ID to fill the gap as long as they have a common element to link them.

A passport application also needs two identical passport photos taken to the proper photo requirements. A detailed list of what makes an acceptable passport photo can be found on the government’s website, but many businesses offer passport photography to cut down the risk of having an improperly formatted picture.

Like with a renewal, you need two references, but you also need a single guarantor. This person can be anyone, including a family member or member of your household, as long as they fit the other requirements.

The guarantor must have known you for at least two years, be available to contact, be a Canadian citizen older than 18, have a five or 10-year Canadian passport of their own and be willing to provide their own passport information.

Your guarantor must sign your application, one of your passport photos and all copies of any supporting identity documents.

Depending on why you are applying for a new passport — such as if you want to omit your place of birth, have changed your name or are updating your gender marker — you may be required to submit other documents pertaining to those issues alongside the base requirements. Details on these extra documents can be found on the government’s website.

WHERE TO SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION FOR A NEW PASSPORT OR RENEWAL

The process itself depends on if you are applying for a passport from within Canada or from the U.S. or abroad elsewhere. If you are outside of Canada, you may be able to apply by mail, but otherwise should inquire at the nearest Government of Canada office in the region you are in.

In Canada, there are a few different ways to process an application, and officials recommend different strategies depending on how quickly you require a passport. For far off trips greater than 26 business days or more, you can apply by mail or by either booking an appointment online at a Service Canada Centre or by just walking in if the Service Canada isn’t very busy.

However, Service Canada won’t be of any help if you need a passport acquired or renewed urgently. For those who need a passport within the next two business days, you must apply in person at a passport office — and while some Service Canada locations are consolidated and include a dedicated passport office, many passport offices are separate. A tool online can help you find a passport office near your location.

If you are applying for a new passport urgently, you must provide proof that you require it in two business days or less.

In the case of needing a passport within 3-25 days, officials recommend making an appointment at one of the 35 specialized passport service locations. You must have proof of travel or need, and you can find a list of all of these specialized passport sites in each province on the government’s website.

WHAT IT’S LIKE TRYING TO APPLY NOW

It already sounds like a lot of work, but according to reported delays, it’s particularly difficult right now to acquire or renew a passport.

Some have reported waiting in long lines at passport offices to try and file an application or renewal — something you can avoid by applying early enough in advance. If you apply at least 26 business days in advance, you can attend a Service Canada Centre instead of a specialized passport site.

But if possible, you should try to apply earlier than that to minimize the risk of delays affecting your plans.

According to Service Canada, the standard processing time for regular passport applications submitted in Canada is 10 business days when submitted in person at a passport office and 20 business days when submitted by mail or in person at a Service Canada Centre, not including mailing time.

As of April 18, Employment and Social Development Canada says the average processing time is five and 25 days respectively.

If you have submitted an application over 20 business days ago and still haven’t heard back, there is a tool to check the status of your application. 

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Have you had to cancel travel plans due to passport processing delays? Email dotcom@bellmedia.ca.

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