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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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.

Roadblocks to a successful passport renewal process

Having a valid passport is an essential part of international travel.  Your passport has to be valid in order to be able to make your trip.  In some cases, your passport has to be valid for a certain period of time.  Unfortunately, those who have a passport will eventually come upon a time when that passport must be renewed.  After all, a passport is only valid for a certain amount of time.  For adults, in most cases, it is valid for 10 years while for children it is valid for 5 years.

While renewing a passport is not as complex as obtaining a brand new passport, there are some criteria involved that will determine whether you can apply for a passport renewal or have to start all over again.  Some of these steps can be determined simply by looking at the passport.  Others are more complex.  The following criteria can help to determine which route you would have to take:

  1. A children’s passport cannot be renewed through the renewal process. The reason for this is because a children’s passport was only valid for 5 years.  A children’s passport requires parental consent and because they are minor’s will only be valid for 5 years.  The renewal process only applies if your passport was valid for 10 years and was not expired for more than 5 years.
  2. If your passport was valid for 10 years it can be renewed as long as it has not been expired for more than 5 years. For example, let’s say your passport was valid from 2002 to 2012.  This passport cannot be renewed in 2018 because the passport has been expired for more than 5 years.
  3. Your passport must be in good to great condition. If your passport has been damaged in any way, has pages cut off, is falling apart, has been mistreated or has been accidently left in the washing machine then chances are the passport is not renewable.  Any passport that has been damaged is considered just that…a damaged passport and you must now follow the damaged passport process.
  4. If there are any changes to your name or if the passport was accidentally misspelled or has inaccurate information, a birth certificate or other certified documentation would be needed in order to correct it. In some cases, the State Department may determine that the change requires you to apply as a new passport instead of a renewal.
  5. You can renew your passport before it expires. There are some countries that require a passport to be valid for more than 6 months in order for them to allow you to enter their country.  The State Department does allow you to renew your passport before it expires.
  6. Remain eligible to obtain a passport. There are certain citizens who are not able to obtain a passport or even renew a passport.  Those who are ineligible to receive a passport are those who are wanted by the government, owe the government money or are in arrears of child support.

If your passport adheres to the criteria listed, you should be able to do a passport renewal and receive a new passport.  Renewals can be sent through the mail for regular process or if you are in a rush go in person or through a service like ours.  We have offices in Downtown Orlando and in Coral Gables, FL.  Visit our site for more infomration at http://www.passportsvisasandmore.com.

 

U.S. Passport Book or Passport Card – Which Should You Get?

This is a question many travelers ask when applying.  What is the difference between a passport card and a passport book?  Which is best for you?  The answer lies in your travel needs.  Some travelers benefit from the card while the majority are better off with the book.  You may choose to get both if you prefer.  To understand which is best for you it is important to note what you can do with each one.

A new passport book and new passport card are valid for the same time.  For an adult the validity is 10 years for both and for children under 16 the validity is 5 years.  The cost of the new passport book is more expensive than the passport card.  That is what makes the passport card more appealing.  That said, there is a reason it is more expensive.  The new passport book allows you to leave the U.S. by any means of travel while the passport card is only good for leaving the U.S. under certain means of travel.

A passport card is good for cruise or boat travel from the U.S. to places in the Caribbean and if you are driving into Canada or Mexico.  That’s it.  It doesn’t allow for much more and even for cruises or boating you do need to check with the cruise line as some areas do not accept the passport card and require you to have a passport book.  It is NOT good for airline travel.  If you are boarding a plane, the passport card will NOT get you on board and not having the passport book will be a problem.

A passport book is good for all types of travel.  It can be used for the same purposes as that of a passport card and is good for all flight travel.  Just be careful of the validity and know if a visa or entry payment is required on top of just the book.

That said, the passport card is a very good piece of identification.  It is given to you by the Department of State and has all the markings of a government issued ID.  While it may not be good to board the plane it is a valid proof of identification in the States and a valid proof of citizenship.  Many travelers get the passport card IN ADDITION to the passport book just so that they can travel with both and keep the passport safe in the hotel while they explore with the passport card.

To get either one requires the same types of documentation.  You must prove that you are a U.S. citizen by providing your birth certificate, older passport or a Naturalization Certificate along with a valid ID.  You can choose to rush the passport card as well as the passport book if you so desire.  The government fees apply to both but you only have to pay the expedite fee once rather than for each one if you decide to rush your passport request.  Our Miami and Orlando offices can assist you with rush passports and rush passport cards.  Visit our site at www.passportsvisasandmore.com or at 888-336-0683.

First Steps Needed To Begin A New Passport For U.S. Born Citizens

us passportApplying for a First Time or New Passport may seem like an exciting venture.  We have found that having a new passport opens the doors to many different destinations and whole new aspect to travel.  However, if you do not have the right materials to start you could be looking at a very frustrating process.  Believe it or not, a naturalized citizen has an easier time getting a passport than someone born in the United States.  That’s because the proof of citizenship they have is recent while a U.S. born citizen has to depend on presenting a birth certificate that was most likely kept by their parents in safe keeping away from you for years.  Here are some tips to helping ensure that your new passport application gets off on the right track:

  1. Make sure you have a valid birth certificate. Your birth certificate must have your parents’ names.  The date of your birth, the county/city where the birth occurred and cannot say Abstract on it.  Be careful of abstract birth certificates.  These are birth certificates given by the county but do not show parentage and are not accepted for a new passport.  The Passport Office requires a certified long form of the birth certificate which features your parentage.   The link below will give you some tips to help with finding out if your birth certificate will be good for passport purposes:  https://blog.vitalchek.com/birth-certificates/determine-birth-certificate-official/
  2. Make sure your birth certificate is in good condition and is not a photo copy. The link in step #1 will help you to determine if the birth certificate is good or just a copy.  Also keep in mind that if it is torn apart to the point where information is missing the passport office may deny it.  If it is laminated it may also be rejected because by laminating the birth certificate you have tampered with it making it potentially unacceptable.  If your birth certificate is severely damaged or laminated you may order a new one using the same link as above:

*For out of state birth certificates try this link:  https://www.vitalchek.com/

*For travelers born in Orlando, Miami or other parts of Florida try this link:  http://www.floridahealth.gov/certificates/certificates/index.html

  1. Make sure your birth certificate does not have any errors. Such errors will be put on the passport and will make it harder to correct later on.  You must contact your county where you were born for information on data correction of a birth certificate.  Use this link as a guide to correct your passport:  https://blog.vitalchek.com/birth-certificates/correct-change-birth-certificate/
  2. Make sure you have a valid state identification either as a driver’s license or a learner’s permit. Here is a list of acceptable identification:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/identification.html
  3. Your passport photo is extremely important. Please do not overlook this part and take it as seriously as possible.  Be sure that you have recent and quality photos.  The Passport Agency requires a photo taken less than 6 months ago.  We recommend 3 months just to be sure.  We do not know how the Passport Agency knows but they know when a passport photo is older than 6 months.  Once they know it will cause a delay in your application which could cause you to miss your trip.   For more information on that see:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/photos.html

 

While having these items helps get the process started it does not mean that the Passport Agency will accept your documentation.  Your name and information still have to clear their systems. We can help you with a rush new passport if you have a need.  We have offices in Orlando and Miami that would be happy to assist.  We can be reached at 888-336-0683 or visit our site at www.passportsvisasandmore.com