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!!!

Current Status of the Department of State

To our travel family, if you do not have a valid passport or are interested in getting a passport please read this post. The State Department is opening in phases. Right now they are only in phase 1 which is the very beginning of the process and allows for them to take care of any passports that were sent prior to their closing on March 19th for regular processing. There is no set timeframe for when they will reopen for expedite processing.

The State Department does not intend to open for expedite processing as long as the Covid case numbers continue to rise. The State Department has emphasized that any possibility of reopening depends SOLELY on containing the Covid virus. In case you are wondering if it’s because they don’t want you to travel during this pandemic…yes, that’s exactly what it is. They just won’t say it out loud. Remember, you are a citizen of the United States and as such you are the responsibility of the U.S. when there are problems overseas. In the eyes of the U.S. Department of State, it is better that you are here in the U.S. rather than traveling around and getting stuck in places that may have to be quarantined. While the likelihood of that happening is remote, it’s the last thing they want to worry about right now.

We do ask that if you do have a trip planned in August or September that you ask your friends, family and even your social media to do what they can to contain the spread of the virus. This could be something as small as a post emphasizing the need to social distance or a post about wearing a mask. Do what you can to spread the word because the only way the State Department will reopen is if these case numbers go down. Once those numbers go down they’ll open up again and pretty soon we can look back on this entire COVID issue and say, “lets not do that again!” Thank you and stay safe!

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 7 months of silence the Department of State finally announced an expedited processing of 4-6 weeks.  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?

The State Department does offer an expedite service for life or death situations only at this time.  You must also be able to prove the matter in order for them to assist you.  Otherwise, the State Department is offering a 4-6 week process.  We are finding that they are doing them closer to 4 weeks but again they do say 4-6 weeks so it’s important to keep that in mind.

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 either through their expedite 4-6 week process or a regular 10-12 week process.  We can assist you with the expediting of a passport renewal using this timeframe.

5. Can I mail in my passport to get processed normally without any expedited charges?

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. 

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 in less than 4-6 weeks?

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 with a service faster than 4-6 weeks.  At the present time we can assist with any passport renewals that would like to take advantage of the 4-6 week timeframe.  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.  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.