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FAQs on what is going on with the Passport Agency

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the travel agency extremely hard.  This can be seen in various ways.  From most countries still not allowing international travel to airlines offering a ticket at a reasonable price the travel industry is facing a difficult time.  It is no more glaring that with the Department of State Passport Agency.  After nearly 2 1/2 months of silence the Department of State finally announced in June that they will be opening up in phases.  Here are some frequent questions that travelers are asking right now:

1.What are the phases that the agencies are using?

There are three phases, with almost all agencies either beginning phase 1 or planning phase 1.  Here are the phases below direct from the Department of State website:

Phase 1:  Some of our employees will return to our agencies and centers, allowing us to resume limited processing of applications we already received.  We will continue to prioritize services for customers with life-or-death emergencies by appointment only.  No other expedite service will be available during phase one.

Phase 2:  We will be able to resume processing more of the applications we already received. Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications received. We will continue prioritizing life-or-death emergency cases but no other expedited service will be available during phase two.

Phase 3:  All remaining staff return to our agencies and centers, and we plan to resume normal operations. We will offer a processing time commitment for routine service and resume expedited service in this phase.  Expedite service is available at this time.

2. I have a life or death emergency.  What do I do?

If you have a life or death emergency you can call the Department of State and set up an appointment.  Please note, you are going to have to prove that this is the case or you will be sent home.  This is something they are taking very serious.  If you have the proof you can call them at 877-487-2778 to set up an appointment.  You do have to go the designated agency in person as no third party service can assist.

3. Can I rush or expedite my passport right now?

Not unless it is a life or death emergency.  Until the agencies are in phase 3 you cannot expedite your passport.

4. Can I start the processing of my passport now?

If it is not a life or death emergency, the only way to apply for a passport is to do regular processing which can only be done through the mail.  Please note that there are lengthy delays regarding regular processing.  There is an expected delay of 2 to 3 months minimum.  There is no exact timeframe.  Renewals can be mailed in while first time/children’s passport can be done by going to a county clerk or post office that does passports.  Note:  not all county clerks and post offices do it so you need to check with one will work for you.  Here is a link:   iafdb.travel.state.gov

5. Can I mail in my passport to get processed?

Here is the official stance from the Department of State:  You can apply now for regular process, but unless you have a life-or-death emergency, you will experience delays before receiving your passport and the return of your citizenship documents such as previous passports, and birth and naturalization certificates. We will not offer normal processing times until phase three of our reopening plan.

6. What if I don’t have a passport and have a trip that I must absolutely make without exception?

Not to be blunt but, at the present time, you must discuss this matter with Department of State.   You can call them at the number listed on question 2 and discuss the matter with them.  Third party services are not allowed to process until Phase 3.  There are no exceptions.  There is a distinct possibility that you would have to change your trip.

7. How long until the Department of State can process expedited passports?

This is the million dollar question.  And unfortunately it does not have an answer.  The Department of State has not indicated nor given specific dates when they will reopen.  All they are saying is that the reopening is totally dependent on the handling of the pandemic.

8. What can PVM do for me at this time?

PVM is an expedited service.  We are not a regular process service and have never been a service for regular processing.  We do have to wait for them to reach Phase 3 before we can help clients.  If you would like you can send us an email and we will be happy to notify you once the Department of State has reopened and we are able to do passports again.  Our email is info@passportsvisasandmore.com

9. I want to travel but I need to get my visa before my trip.  Can you assist with getting visas at this time?

Not only is the Department of State opened for processing neither are the consulates.  Almost all the consulates are closed until further notice.  Most consulates will not reopen for visas until it is safe to travel.

10. I mailed in my application at a post office/county clerk but still have not gotten it back.  Can you assist me or guide me in what to do? 

If you began your application dealing with the Department of State directly through a post office or county clerk you must remain dealing with the Department of State directly.  No third party service can help you when you apply in this manner.  For information on your application please call 877-487-2778 for information on your application.

Evisa…what is it and how can I get one?

e-visaWhen traveling to different countries it is important to note that some still require visas to enter.  There are different types of visas.  Some countries offer and ETA (electronic visa), stamped visa, Evisa or visa upon arrival. There are some countries that offer an ETA which is a form of an Evisa as the only option to enter.  Some countries actually require a stamp to be put in your passport while others have gone with the option of getting the visa upon arrival or getting an Evisa.  Other countries don’t give you the visa upon arrival option and just require you to either get the Evisa or the stamp in your passport.

While getting a visa upon arrival is a viable option it often is one of the least desirable options by many of the airlines and the countries you visit.  The reason for that is because the visa upon arrival option requires you to wait in a line along with everyone else who just got off your flight not to mention any other flights that might have arrived at the same time.  On top of that there are hours where the visa upon arrival counter may be closed meaning you have to wait til they open to officially enter.  This is rare and usually only happens when there is a delay in the flights.  Still, when it happens it makes your trip that much longer. This is the number one benefit of getting the visa before you leave.  Once you have the visa you can usually just show the visa and go right on through.

Getting a stamp in your passport in most cases is a great option and is usually a way to get a longer term visa.  That said, you do have to turn in your passport in order to get the visa.  In most cases the turn around time to get the stamped visa is at least a week or two.  Meanwhile, the process of the Evisa is usually shorter and does not require you to turn in your passport.  Also the cost of the process is much less as there is no shipping to the consulates or shipping to a company to process it adding an extra sense of security.

So how does one get an Evisa?  Well firstly you’d have to see if the country you want to visit offers one.  India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya and Tanzania are among the many countries that offer an Evisa to US citizens.  Australia, Turkey and New Zealand offer an ETA visa which is required and takes the place of a visa stamp for US citizens.   Call us to see if your desired country is Evisa eligible and to see what’s required or how we can assist. Check us out at www.passportsvisasandmore.co or call us at 888-336-0683.

Benefits of an in person visit when using a service

There are a couple of ways that travelers can use a service such as ours to get their passport done.  There are many services that offer to do everything with you online where they give you the instructions and as long as you follow those instructions you will be fine.  There are other services that offer walk in services where you can go into their office and an experienced service agent will walk you through the entire process, make sure your documents are good and then proceed to get everything done.

Our service specializes in the later as we love to deal with travelers in person rather than online.  While we are willing to work with travelers who cannot come in person, the truth of the matter is that the chances of an application done online has a significantly higher probability of having a problem that will delay the process than if a person goes to an office directly.  There are specific reasons for that and I will detail them in this blog.  When we are dealing with an online request we make sure to run down the possibilities so that the traveler knows what they need to do and how to go about doing it.  Often times this is not done by the service.

One of the most popular problems is the photo.  When doing the documentation online many people are told to go to Fedex Office, CVS or Walgreen’s for the photos which is a fair way to get it done.  However, many a Fedex Office, Walgreen’s or CVS employee is someone who is trained on doing a lot more than just passport photos. They don’t really know if the right lighting is there or if they have the right size.  They instead depend on the machine they use to get it right.  Sometimes the head placing is too far back or the lighting is woefully insufficient so while the machine they use may accept it, it does not mean the passport agency will.  This is something an in person visit with a service will catch prior to sending out the documents will be able to correct BEFORE you send in your documents not after.

Another example can be seen in the condition of the documentation you have.  Did you know that if your passport has water damage that it could be deemed by the State Department as damaged?  If it is deemed damaged then an additional letter or even an entirely different process would be required?  If this is not mentioned to the online service over the phone they will not be able to tell you about the potential for problems.  So you send in your documentation only to be told after you have paid their super high fees that you are not getting your passport because you have to go through a totally different process.  An in person visit with an experienced agent would catch that and advise the options before you send it out not after saving you time which is after all the goal.

Some people even have birth certificates that do not have the parentage or are a short version of the birth certificate.  The traveler may not know this and may think it’s a perfectly normal birth certificate.  When using the online service, if the person on the phone doesn’t ask this or know this they will not advise that this is a problem.  You won’t be told that you will run into delays and will most likely have to get a new birth certificate until AFTER you have paid the fees.  In some cases getting a new birth certificate may take weeks because it has to be ordered or is out of state.  This means your trip may have to be postponed or changed but since the traveler was unaware the traveler purchased a ticket that now has to be changed bringing about change fees or outright losing the cost outright.  Again, an in person visit with an experienced agent resolves this issue and saves time and money.

There are other issues as well such as forgetting to sign the application form or check or incorrectly writing the check.  The most common one is forgetting an original document in the copier because you are making the required copies the online service asks for and instead sent a copy.  Again, these issues aren’t discovered until after your documents have been sent out rather than before.  These things normally do not happen with an in person visit.

Possibly the biggest difference with using a service online versus using a service in person can be seen with in the first time passport process which includes minor’s passports and lost/stolen passports.  The reasons for this are several but the most important reason revolves around the fact that an appearance is required at a county clerk’s or post office.  This is because the process for doing a first time passport THROUGH A SERVICE is a totally different process for a county clerk than sending the passport by mail to the State Department.  The simplest explanation is many of these locations just do not deal with an applicant using a third party service that often.  So they are not used to looking for an authorization letter, they aren’t used to the exact fees and in some cases aren’t even aware that an applicant can use a third party service.  They are supposed to know, supposed to know the procedures but since they rarely do it they can forget and this kind of delay is the last thing you need when your trip is in a matter of days.  So while they do not realize it at the time, they are putting your trip is real jeopardy.  An online service will only tell you where to go but will not tell you the experience level of that location.  An in person visit with a service will more than likely lead to going to a county clerk that does have experience with a service and will know the procedures so problems due to incorrect fees and incorrect documentation is minimized drastically.

Using a third party service is a great way to get your passport done without having to actually visit a Passport Agency.  At the end of the day getting a passport is totally dependent on the documentation you provide and when you provide it.  While using a service online and going through the steps they provide is a very viable option there is something to be said about going in person having an experienced person review your documents.

How To Properly Fill Out a DS #3053

Traveling internationally with a minor is often a great way to spend time with family and experience new adventures.  However, a passport is required in order to make any international flight. The process to get a minor a passport is different from that of an adult.  The main reason is because parental consent from both parent is required if both parents are listed on the birth certificate.

What does parental consent really mean?  In a nutshell it means that both parents if listed on the birth certificate must give consent to the issuance of the passport.  This is done usually in person either at a post office, county clerk or passport agency.  It is a very easy process as long as you appear with the child, birth certificate and previous passport if the minor has had a previous passport.

However, there are some instances where one parent cannot attend.  In these cases the state department allows the non attending parent to fill out a form called a DS #3053 which must be notarized and turned in by the attending parent along with a copy of the non attending parent’s ID used to notarize the DS #3053.  This form properly filled out and presented along with a clear copy of the ID will work just fine.

That being said, the success rate of filling out this form is below 50%.  Why is that?  Unfortunately the non attending parent simply does not take the time to properly fill out the form.  As a result they submit an incomplete form that the State Department rejects.  In these cases the form has to be redone and sent back in.  Almost daily we see at the agency a scenario where a parent is frantically calling the non attending parent to get a new form or race to the agency to sign off on the needed forms.  All because they didn’t put the date of birth of the child on the form, neglected to put the child’s middle name, neglected to put their address or neglected to properly authorize the attending parent by writing their name correctly on the form.

While these omissions seem trivial it is important to understand that this form is the last line of defense the State Department has against issuing a passport to a minor ensuring both parents give consent.  It is a safety feature done in the best interests of the child.  In the State Department’s eyes, each parent should know their child’s middle name, their date of birth and their own address.  Any delay requires a new form from the non attending parent notarized.  In some cases this can cause days delays and even missed trips.  Such is the importance of filling out this form correctly the first time.

Filling out this form properly requires 10 minutes and must be filled out by the parent who is not attending.  Below is the portion of the DS 3053 that the non attending parent is responsible for filling out:

cut off 3053

Please note that there are 4 questions in total.  Each question must be answered completely.  Here is some help in filling out this form;

Question #1 asks for the minor’s name in FULL…please do not forget the middle name.

Question #2 asks for the minor’s date of BIRTH…please do not leave this blank.

Question #3 asks for the parent to indicate what they are requesting.  Please check the appropriate box (most request the passport book)

Question #4 asks that you list your information and authorize the attending parent to do the passport.  DO NOT SIGN UNTIL YOU ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE NOTARY.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

Please use the same color ink throughout the form…any indication the form was filled out by someone else will invalidate the form.

Be sure the notary is notarizing the documentation on the same day you sign.

Your signature must match the signature on the ID you are using.

Make sure the date you sign is the same date the notary will be using.

Do not cross out any dates or information.  If you misspelled something or wrote the date wrong do it again because it will be denied.

Above all….take your TIME.  By taking 10 minutes to fill out this form properly will save you days, additional cost and quite possibly a missed trip.  Follow these steps and taking your time will make this process smoother and easier.

Stamped India Visa or Evisa? Which one do you need?

New travelers going to India will notice that India offers 2 different options for tourist travel to India.  The first option is the standard visa that gets placed into the passport and the second option is the Evisa.  For India, the Evisa came into effect on February 4th, 2014.  Both options are great for entry into India but which one is best for you?  Let’s dig in.

In order to answer the question let’s first discuss what the benefits of the Evisa are in comparison to the standard stamped Visa. The first and most compelling benefit is the cost involved. The Evisa is $103.00 as opposed to the standard visa that comes out to $198.00 with shipping included. Another benefit of the Evisa option is that you do not have to turn in your passport and remain without it for a long period of time, since it is an electronic visa that does not require to be stamped in the passport. The stamped visa requires submitting your documents to the consulate and requires you be without it for several days or weeks. With this in mind, the last benefit is that a trip to the consulate is not required for the Evisa.

In regards to the stamped visa, you can request the visa which will be valid for 10 years with multiple entries but it costs about $90 more than the India Evisa. With this said, the India Evisa will only provide a validity of 4 months with two entries within that period of time. To figure out which visa best suits your needs, you should think about the cost and how many times you plan to travel to India. If you will be planning multiple trips to India over the course of 10 years than the stamped visa may be your best option. However, if you plan on going once and have not clear return plans then we would suggest the Evisa.

Luckily, we can assist with both the India Evisa and the India stamped visa. For more information, you can take a look at our website. Allow us to assist you in this process and make it as painless as possible for you. We can complete the Evisa electronically, which means you will simply have to print out your approval and take it with your original passport when traveling to India. We can submit your stamped visa if this is your preferred choice as well. Then, you can simply enjoy the wonders India has to offer!

Check out our website http://www.passportsvisasandmore.com or call us at 888-336-0683 for any further information you may need!