Traveling internationally this summer? If so, start your passport process now.

Since the passport agency closed its doors to walk in service on March 19, 2020 we have received many calls from travelers asking when will they return to normal. Each time we emphasize that regardless of when they fully reopen you should get started and not wait. However, many have avoided doing so and have paid a price. They, hesitate, thinking the State Department will open really soon and we will take care of it then. Unfortunately, that thinking has come back to cost many a traveler their trip, time and money.

The reason is because the Passport Agencies, 2 years after closing, are still not operating the same as they were Pre-Covid. For example, the Miami Passport Agency used to allow walk ins every day. Now the first thing you see when you go there is a sign stating they will only see you if you have an appointment. No walk ins are allowed. The agencies are now only taking appointments and good luck getting those. You must have a ticket with a booking number and be leaving within 2 weeks. Then you must hope they have an appointment available. You may not be able to get the agency nearest you. We’ve had people living in Florida given appointments at the Honolulu, Hawaii agency. There is no negotiation…it’s either take it over leave it. This is the reality with the State Department appointment system now.

Signage now posted at the passport agency

Yet, if you casually bring up passport processing among friends at an event you will almost certainly be told about the time they, or a friend of theirs, needed a passport and just went to the agency and “they took care of it that day!” This brings up the thinking that exists today… too many people are waiting til the week or weeks before they travel to look into getting a passport. They do this thinking that what worked Pre-Covid is now working Post-Covid. That is not the case at the moment.

One would think services like mine would prosper during this time but you would be wrong. Why? Because we have not been given our full assortment of slots. Post-Covid most services can now only submit about 20% of the amount of passports submitted Pre-Covid. As a result, we have to turn away many people we would have been able to help 2 years ago and we now have to charge much more for the use of our services. This is before we get into the fact that the processing times are nowhere near what we used to have as well. Gone are the same day or next day applications. Private companies simply cannot meet the demand that has been created because the Passport Agencies are not taking walk ins.

As if to pile on, many countries have now begun enforcing entry agreements that have been in place for years with the United States. Some of these entry agreements require your passport to be valid for a certain period of time before or after you arrive. In some cases your passport must be valid for 6 months upon your RETURN to the states for you to travel. Please note, airlines will enforce this…because they will get hit with fines if they don’t. And those fines cost a lot more than your ticket. In their eyes, better for you to lose your ticket than for them to lose money in fines. You can find out what agreement is in place with the country you are planning to travel by using this link: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel.html

This situation promises to escalate as more and more people look to travel, especially in the summer. The passport agencies have not made any mention or even hinted when they will reopen fully or give the services their full allotment of slots back. As a result, Summer of 2022 promises to be super busy as many people are eying travel Post-Covid. It also means that unless the State Department changes many people more will be hit with the same challenges we have discussed.

So what can someone do now to avoid this? By looking at your passports now to make sure your passport is valid or has enough validity to make the trip and back. Don’t wait til after you book your tickets. The State Department offers a mail in service for renewals and first time process. You can do this on your own or through a service. For passport renewals, currently there is a 4-6 week option for expedite service and an 8-10 week option for regular processing of passport renewals. Both processing times are being completed on the early end as of this writing. First time passports are being done through the clerk’s office, post office, libraries or other official locations but they have the same timeframe and a service can help you organize all the documents. You can find the nearest location by using this link: https://iafdb.travel.state.gov. Many of these locations require an appointment so book in advance. Avoid scrambling to get a passport by starting your passport process now and planning accordingly.

I understand many people are concerned about mailing in their documents. While an extremely rare amount of cases are valid the majority of cases “sender error” plays a major role. For example, don’t use regular mail to send your passport. Express or Priority mail have tracking abilities which help you and are shipped differently than regular mail. Know that the process doesn’t start once you drop it in the mail…it’s starts when it registers in their systems. The faster they receive it the faster it will register. Express Mail also provides insurance in the event that the package gets lost. Another misstep is thinking any passport can be renewed. Children’s passports that were valid for 5 years or less cannot be renewed and require different procedures. Many travelers have had their request sent back for this reason losing valuable time. Many travelers do the application by hand using handwriting that only their mother can love. We recommend using the online application filler to avoid misspellings or misinterpretations of your handwriting and to ensure you print out the proper application. The form can be done here: https://pptform.state.gov Remember, they are only as good as the paperwork you send them.

The simple truth is that a passport sent in for the expedite 4-6 week or 8-10 week process gets done on time if done correctly. True, there can be instances where there are delays but those are few and far in between. There have been rare instances where a passport just does not get approved but it’s because for whatever reason the name hasn’t been cleared to be issued a passport. This could happen even if you applied at a passport agency directly. The rest of the time, if there is a delay it’s fixable such as a bad photo or you didn’t sign the form. Again…these are “sender error” types of delays. All these things a service can help you avoid.

As a service we try to provide you with as much information as we possibly can. We do not know when the passport agencies will reopen fully but we do not believe it will be in the next 2 to 3 months. Certainly not this month. We are writing this entry so that you consider all options. If your passport is expired or has less than one year remaining we recommend you get started on renewing. Especially if you aren’t traveling in the next few months. If you have never had a passport before but are looking at a summer cruise/trip with the kids, don’t wait. Remember It can get pretty expensive doing multiple passports not to mention the added anxiety…especially the closer you get to your travel date. The key is to get the process started so that you are looking at your summer trip with passport in hand.

#getapassport #rushpassport #ilovetravel

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