Two Simple Wishes

How to Renew a Passport…FAST

If you are ever in need of getting a FAST passport renewal – here’s how.

Passport

I have firsthand knowledge of how this works – something I’m not proud of.  But hey, if my poor planning, oversight, lack of organization, whatever you want to call it, can help someone else – that is my silver lining.

It’s important to note that the “fast” renewal means that you can get it done in a day.  Don’t expect the process that day to be fast.

Tips to Ensure Your Passport Doesn’t Expire

First, and foremost…DON’T LET YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRE, or even come close to expiring.  Here are some suggestions on how to make sure this doesn’t happen:

  • If you use an electronic calendar, put a reminder on the calendar 6 months before your passport’s expiration date.  In case this reminder system fails you (or in my case, I failed to pay attention to it), be sure to also do the next step.
  • Check the expiration date of your passport the minute you begin thinking about an international trip.  If it is within 6 months, start the renewal process immediately.  Many countries require that you have six months validity on your passport.

(Important note – The State Department anticipates a large number of passport renewal requests in 2016 and 2017, which will result in a longer processing time.  If your passport expires in 2016, start the process now and avoid the headache of getting a rush renewal.)

Instructions for Fast Passport Renewal

If it is too late to use the suggestions above and you have international travel in two weeks or less:

Resist the urge to panic.  You need your wits about you.  Then begin to take action…immediately.

Work through the “How to Apply for a Passport” wizard on the U.S. Department of State web site.  This is helpful for verifying your eligibility and getting important information about the process, including the closest regional passport office to you. (You will need to apply in person at an official Department of State Passport Agency.)

Call the National Passport Information Center.  If you are calling from the U.S. the number is 1-877-487-2778.  There is an automated scheduling system available 24/7.  Work your way through the automated system to check for the first available appointment at the Department of State Passport Agency that is closest to you.

If the first available appointment works for your travel plans, take it and begin preparing your paperwork.

If there isn’t an available appointment before you trip (via the automated appointment system):

  • Call the same number (1-877-487-2778). as soon as the business hours begin. (Monday-Friday at 8:00 AM EST; Saturday at 10:00 AM; except on Federal Holidays.)  At the beginning of the automated message, there is the option to press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, OR (and this is important), STAY ON THE LINE – even if you have a touch tone phone.  This is the only way I could find to talk to a real person.  (Important note – These instructions are for normal business or pleasure travel.  If your last-minute travel is due to a life or death emergency, and you are calling outside the offices normal business hours, call this number – 1-202-647-4000.)
  • Explain your situation.  Be polite.  Be patient.  Remember that you attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.  Be the honey.
  • If they are able to give you an appointment before your departure date, take it.  And say thank you.

Gather your documentation. 

  • Your current passport
  • Proof of travel (travel itinerary showing dates of flights)
  • The appropriate passport renewal form – There is a list of forms on the web site.  The representative on the phone will tell you the appropriate form to use.  Fill it out before you go.
  • Passport photo – When attaching your passport photo to the form be to staple the photo to the application, using 4 staples vertically in the corners as close to the outer edges of the photo as possible.  Do not bend the photo.
  • Form of payment – They accept major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover), debit/check cards (not ATM cards), checks, bank drafts, money orders and cash (exact amount only).  You will have to pay the regular processing fee ($110) plus the expedited fee ($60).

Do your homework.  Use Google maps to get directions to the Passport Agency and locate parking – before you leave.  Also research some ways to kill time (in the immediate local area) while you wait for your passport to be processed.

Show up at least 30 minutes early.  You will be required to go through security.  Don’t bring electronics.  Mobile phones are permitted, but you cannot make calls.  Have a photo ID to show at security.  Also make sure to bring your patience and sense of humor.

Go to the office where the passports are handled.  There will be a security guard at the door.  Politely ask where to go for passport renewals with an appointment.

Wait in line.  I only had to wait 10 minutes.  The purpose of going to the window is to get a number for your passport to be processed.  You will be asked for your appointment confirmation number and documentation and then given a number.

Take a seat, and wait.  Bring some reading material to help pass the time.  Pay attention to the numbers being called.  I waited about 30 minutes for my number to be called.

Go to the designated window when your number is called.  Hand over the required documents.  You will pay for the processing at this point.  The agent will give you the time when your passport will be available for pick up.

Find something to do while you wait.  At this point you may leave the office.  I would suggest staying in the local area.  I had three hours to kill and was tempted to drive home; but better judgement prevailed.  I opted to stay close by because there was simply no room for errors.  My family was leaving for Aruba, early on Monday; and I was getting this taken care of the Friday before we left.  The great thing about the Passport Agency in Philadelphia is that it is located in old city – so there is plenty to walk around and see.  I needed a few things for the trip, so I opted to spend my time at the nearby Target, which was only 5 minutes away.  Close enough to walk back to get my passport if I had car trouble.

Return to the passport office 15 minutes or so before the designated time.  You will have to go through security again.  Tell the security guard in the office that you are there to pick up your passport; he or she will show you where to wait.

Pick up your passport.  Here is where it is a little crazy.  The designated pick-up time is not specific to you.  They process the passports in batches; so you and everyone else who was told to pick up passports at that time will be vying for a place in line.  Park yourself as close as you can to the area to line up.  When the call is made, there will be a rush to get in line.    Depending on the number of people, you may be waiting in line for a little while.

When you get up to the window, give the agent your pick-up receipt.    He/she will give you an envelope containing the new and old passports.

Check the information on the new passport to ensure it is correct.

Thank the agent, tell them they are awesome, promise to name your next child after them – or whatever other positive comments you feel led to say.

Offer up a prayer of thanks that this is done.  And promise yourself you will never, ever let it come to this again.  Once you arrive at your destination…BREATH A DEEP SIGH OF RELIEF.  And enjoy your trip!

Note – If you are unable to get an appointment or need a passport the same day you are traveling:  From what I read in a variety of places online, it can be done.  Show up early at the closest Department of State Passport Agency, before they open.  The web site says you need proof of an appointment; but I overheard a guard direct someone who didn’t have an appointment to a different line.  Have everything you need for your passport renewal.  And pray.

If you have advice to share about passport renewal, tell us in the comments below.

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