The number of U.S. passports issued has surged in the last few decades
Americans have historically had one of the lowest passport ownership rates in the world.
However, in the last two decades, the rise of globalization along with the increasing competition between airlines has created a massive shift in demand for international travel, and thus, for passports.
In 1997, around 6 million passports were issued in the U.S. Twenty years later, in 2017, that number more than tripled and 21 million more Americans carried passports - the highest number in history.
What percentage of the population are we talking about? In 1990, 3% of Americans held passports. And today? 42% do.
Despite this growth, the U.S. still lags far behind other developed countries. In the UK, for example, a full 83% of the population has a passport!
So why are more people getting passports?
Aside from globalization, another factor that's drawing more Americans abroad is the power of the internet.
In the 1990s, sites like Expedia and Priceline launched game-changing technologies that could trawl the Web for flights. The sites organize flights by price, so affordable fares previously hard to find were now right at your fingertips. Suddenly, those who thought traveling abroad was just a pipe dream, now could afford to go almost anywhere. Since these sites launched two decades ago, airfares have dropped 50%.
A third factor has to do with national security.
In the wake of 9/11, new laws required U.S. citizens to have a passport to travel to Canada and Mexico. Previously, you could arrive in these countries with just your driver's license. Since these laws took effect in 2007, the years immediately following saw the sharpest increase in passport adoption.
Driver's licenses, meanwhile, have stayed constant
As a point of comparison, 2/3 of Americans have driver's licenses. This number has stayed relatively constant for the past two decades. In 2016, 222 million of 323 million Americans held a state-issued driver's license. When it comes to domestic travel, the driver's license has been the predominant form of TSA-approved identification.
However, in 2005 the Real ID Act was passed which required states to upgrade their driver's license security and issuing standards. This created another wave of people needing to upgrade to new federally-complaint IDs, which will be enforced at airports starting in October of 2020. To upgrade your driver's license, you'll need another identity document, such as a passport.
Takeaways: How to get a new or renew an existing U.S. passport
First off, if you don't have a U.S. Passport and are eligible for one, now is the time to consider it. It's relatively easy and the State Department continues to make improvements to the passport application process. Whether you want to DIY your passport renewal or go with an expedited option, there are now many choices that make that process quick and painless.
If you have an existing passport, it's also a good time check the expiration date on it. Remember, many countries require your passport to be valid for 6 months after your return, so if your passport is expiring within a year, now is a good time to consider renewing with the Uber for passports option.
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