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

Advertisement

Applying for a first time passport during the covid pandemic.

Obtaining a first time passport in years past used to be a very easy proposition. You had many options to get the passport done quickly. These included going in person, using a third party service or mailing in the documentation through a post office or county clerk. Due to Covid 19 restrictions the options have dwindled dramatically. Several days processing is no longer an option and the State Department is only allowing for a 4-6 week expedite processing for a first time passport. Emergency processing is only available if you can prove a life or death situation and make the necessary appointment.

A first time passport requires the verification of an ID from the applicant or the parents if the applicant is a minor. This process is done by authorized personnel at either a passport agency, a post office or county clerk. In person processing is no longer an option as the State Department is only going by appointments and is strictly assigning those appointments to those travelers who have a life or death emergency. Even these appointments are limited and often travelers aren’t able to make an appointment in time even when they have a legitimate life or death emergency. Third party services are not an option either as third party services are not allowed to walk into the passport agencies at this time. This leaves the post office or county clerk for processing first time passports.

Many people are unfamiliar with the county clerk and believe that a first time passport can be applied for only at a post office. Another common misconception is that the post office actually DOES the passport at their location. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Post offices and county clerks check to make sure your documents are okay but they really only do the ID verification at their location. The actual issuance of the passport can only be done at a passport location. This ID verification is what makes it possible to apply for a first time, lost/stolen, minor’s passport at a post office or county clerk at this time.

So where can you go to get your process started? Simply click on this link: https://iafdb.travel.state.gov and enter your zip code. The link will locate the nearest clerks or post office where you can make an appointment. It will also advise you if appointments are required or if you can just walk in. It also gives you a link to their specific website which gives you the pricing and hours of operation.

Don’t know what to bring? Just click on this link: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/apply-in-person.html and it will show you step by step information on what to bring with you including costs.

Third party services are, until further notice, only able to do passport renewals of passports that were valid for 10 years and have not expired for more than 5 years. Please note, children’s passports cannot be renewed. Why? Because their passports are only given to them for 5 years not the 10 years like an adult. As a result each time a minor has to go through the first time process. Use this link for more information on children’s passports: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/under-16.html

Currently, our PVM service provides passport renewals processing that takes 4-6 weeks. We only need the passport as we can do the photos and the application in our office. Simply click on this link below to make an appointment for a passport renewal. Or call us at either 407-459-8807 if your in Orlando or 305-330-4430 if your in Miami. Please note that due to Covid restrictions we are are only available by appointment. Needless to say, we cannot wait to return to normal expediting services as in years past. Use one of the links below to make your appointment:

Orlando office: https://square.site/book/QRHJE7BTV6106/passports-visas-more-orlando-office-orlando-fl

Miami office: https://square.site/book/1QSNBCWF82Q4J/passports-visas-and-more-miami-location-coral-gables-fl

We can also work on the application remotely with you so that you can then send it to us via fedex. We can do the application over the phone or through Zoom. Call us for more information. Thank you and we hope that you find this article helpful. You can visit our site at passportsvisasandmore.co.

Frequently asked questions on the status of the U.S. Passport Agency

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the travel agency extremely hard.  There is so much uncertainty ranging from countries not allowing U.S. citizens entry to cruise ships docked with no passengers and nowhere to go. This uncertainty is also notable with the United States Passport Agency and obtaining a U.S. Passport.  After nearly 2 1/2 months of silence, the United States Department of State finally announced in June that they will be opening up the various passport agencies in phases.  Here are some frequent questions that travelers have been asking and what we know right now:

1.What are these phases that the agencies mention and what is their criteria?

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.

When an agency enters a phase is totally dependent on the containment of the virus in that location. For example, some agencies such as Connecticut and New York are already in phase 2 while other agencies like Houston and Miami are not even in a phase yet due to the high number of corona virus cases.

2. What phase are the agencies in now?

At the moment the passport agencies are in different phases but none are in phase 3 as of yet.  The passport agencies in New York, Connecticut and Washington DC are in phase 2 which is the closest phase to reopening.  However no set date is being given as to when they will begin phase 3 and reopen to the public. 

3. I have a life or death emergency.  What can 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.

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

Yes, you can start the processing of your passport right now but expedited processing is, unfortunately, not available yet.  If it is not a life or death emergency, the only way to apply for a passport, at this time, is to do regular processing which can only be done through the mail for renewals or through an authorized post office or county clerk.  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 evasive but you must discuss this matter with Department of State.   You can call them at the number listed at 877-487-2778 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 at this time.  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?

Many consulates, while open, are either not accepting applications or only accepting urgent family visa type requests with proof of such an urgency.  Some consulates are closed until the pandemic eases.  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.

We are a passport and visa expediting service with offices in Downtown Orlando and Coral Gables Florida.  Allow us to expedite your passport processing.  We do accept appointments. Please click the office you would like to visit below to set it up.  

Coral Gables office appointment

Downtown Orlando office appointment

Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty with regards to expediting a U.S. passport at this time. We do hope that we have been able to answer some of your questions even though they may be answers you weren’t hoping to hear. We do believe that will be changing soon. If it does we will be advising you. Thank you and stay safe everyone!!!

Getting your first passport as a Naturalized U.S. Citizen

us passportFor those foreign nationals who have applied to be a U.S. citizen there is nothing more exhilarating than receiving a phone call from the U.S. State Department.  That special phone call letting advising you that the process is complete and you are going to be a U.S. citizen.  We have often heard about how gratifying it is for many to finally receive this call.  For some however, it is not only gratifying but it poses an entirely new potential problem if they should have travel shortly afterwards.

The phone call comes with a scheduled date and time for your naturalization ceremony.  At this ceremony a certificate of naturalization is given which officially gives you documented proof of citizenship.  While getting this certificate signifies the completion of a long and sometimes arduous process it can bring about new concerns regarding future travels.  Since one never knows when this phone call will come, most people just go about their regular lives and routines.  This could mean planned travel to visit family overseas or it could mean a scheduled business trip in India or Brazil.

This can pose a problem as once you become a U.S. citizen you forfeit your green card.  That means you cannot return to the US with your other passport but would have to go through the process of getting a First Time passport.  In some cases the process has to be expedited.  The other option is to delay the ceremony which would delay the receipt of the naturalization certificate.  For some this is a worthy option but for others it is not.  Fortunately we can assist in expediting a First Time Passport and can do so even for recently naturalized citizens.  In order for us to do so we’d need to see your original naturalized certificate, a valid driver’s license that was issued over 6 months ago and travel itinerary.

If you aren’t traveling right away you can always go to your local passport acceptance facility:  https://iafdb.travel.state.gov/ where your documents will be mailed out and returned to you in about 4 to 6 weeks.  However, if you do need the First Time Passport process expedited and cannot make it to the Miami Passport Agency, we can help.  Call us today at 407-459-8807 to find out how we can assist you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dangers of traveling with a Damaged Passport

 

A passport can be damaged in any number of ways.  It happens more easily than you may think.  A person can come home from a long trip and accidentally leave the passport in clothing that gets put in the washing machine or a passport gets left on the table where your having a glass of water and in reaching for your glass you tip it over pouring water all over your passport.  There are a number of ways in which a passport can be accidentally to intentionally damaged.  The problem is that once it is damaged you should look to obtain a new passport rather than risk travel.

We have received many a call from a traveler stuck at the airport not able to fly because the airline would not let them due to what they believe is damage to the passport.  In many of these cases, the traveler knows the passport is damaged but they believe that since the damage is “minimal” they feel that they can get by.  They are overlooking one inherent problem with that line of thinking.  The problem is that they are banking on the fact that since their passport is in their name and they have it in their possession that logically the immigration officer or airline official will allow you to go through.  This line of thinking can cause you to miss your trip.

It is important to remember that by going to the airport with a damaged passport you are putting your trip in the hands of an official or officer who is trained to verify your passport and make sure that you are who you say you are.  The official/officer’s obligation is to his job and his country’s immigration policies not to you the traveler.  If the officer cannot verify your passport or feels that the damage makes it so that they cannot accept your passport they will deny you.  If that means you miss your trip so be it.  Often there will be no refund.  By accepting this cold and hard truth you will be better off in dealing with this situation.

Damaged Passport
Example of a passport with water damage 

If your passport has water damage or has been chewed on by your dog, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, the passport has now been altered from the original state and must now be considered damaged.  Obtaining a new passport should be your top priority if you plan to travel again in the near future.  You may do so by going through your county clerk’s office if you want to do regular processing in 4-6 weeks or through rush processing in 3 weeks.  If you need it back faster than you can use a service or go directly to a Passport Agency nearest you. For further information on how to rush your passport through a service please visit our website at http://www.passportsvisasandmore.com or call us 888-336-0683.