July 2 Update: For practical suggestions on navigating the passport application process, please see our Tips Page.
Note: Please also see WhirledView's June 3, 2007 post . The June 3 post includes information for travel to Mexico from the US Customs and Border Patrol as well as recent State Department tips for passport filing.
If you still haven't found what you are looking for, we suggest you also look at the numerous reader comments below this post for individual experiences: there are nuggets of information in them with respect to passport agency experiences as well as ways people have managed to deal with the national level. A number of the tips were reportedly so helpful, that are incorporated in our Tips Page.
The US passport issuance delay saga continues because the number of applicants continues to far outpace the State Department’s ability to respond in a timely fashion. As we have indicated in four previous posts – and as a comment from a beleaguered passport office staffer indicated today – the U.S. government passport agency staff is working flat out – but there are only 450 of them throughout the country and the 2.5 million passport work load is staggering. They need more help. That help is way too slow in coming. Seems to me the whole process needs a major revamp, a reality check at the top, less outsourcing and lots more resources.
The problems, in my view, are worsened by State’s penchant for over-optimism or - as another recent commenter suggested - misrepresentation of the far longer times it can take to provide this fee for service than State’s website promises.
This is WhirledView’s fifth post on the topic since we discovered the problem in early February. Here we summarize the actions available to an American citizen to overcome his or her personal bureaucratic nightmare with this broken service. Reports we have received from readers – some who have left comments and others who have talked with us personally – suggest that the passport issuance time remains erratic.
• We know of people who have received expedited passports in four weeks, others who have received them in five weeks and others for whom the expedited process has taken longer
• We’ve heard from people who did not pay the extra fee for expedited service. From what we can glean, regular service often takes between 12 and 16 weeks – although we are certainly in no position to guarantee anything.
• We’ve also talked with two people who paid an additional hefty premium (between $200 and $300) to a “fixer” located next door to the passport office on 19th Street in Washington, D.C. and had their new passports back within 36 hours.
We can offer no cookbook or single recipe that would lead to sure success, but here are a few suggestions that might help:
1) Apply early and pay the $60 extra for expedited service.
2) Check the State Department website for your tracking number and write it down.
3) The tracking number, at least, ensures that your application made it into the system and should be moving onto the next stage. It may take two weeks (on occasion longer) for this number to appear on the appropriate page. (State currently says one week for expedited and four weeks for regular). You can also obtain the tracking number by calling the telephone number listed on the website (Tel: 1-877-487-2778) but be prepared for a lengthy wait on line – and perhaps even being cut off.
4) This telephone number is, in fact, for one of three call centers under contract to the State Department to handle such inquiries.
5) Be sure to obtain and retain another official birth certificate or expired passport to prove you are an American citizen. This is imperative if you are one of the unlucky ones whose passport was not processed in a timely fashion and you are within two weeks of travel – or in need of your new passport earlier (for visas or to purchase a ticket) – and need an emergency appointment at the passport agency office nearest you.
6) If you have still not received your passport and you are due to travel internationally (including flights to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean) in two weeks, call (don't e-mail) your Congressional or Senatorial District Office immediately. You could also call the State number, but from what we understand a Congressional staffer will be more helpful faster. Don’t wait until the last minute – do this at the beginning of the 14 day period, not just a day or two before you plan to depart.
A Congressional staffer can help you in one of two ways:
a) With your tracking number, the staffer can contact the appropriate passport office and ask the office to find your application and move it forward for faster processing to ensure you will not miss your trip. Besides the tracking number, the Congressional staffer also needs to know 1) the name of the applicant as it appears on the passport application; 2) the applicant’s date of birth; 3) the applicant’s social security number; and 4) the applicant’s travel departure date.
b) If you have no tracking number, you will need an emergency in person appointment at the passport agency office nearest to you. There are 13 located throughout the US. Your Congressional staffer can make that appointment and the passport office can issue the passport on the spot. This may mean, however, taking the time off work, making a lengthy drive, an overnight stay and/or taking the kids out of school – but don’t do this without having first secured an appointment. The Congressional staffer will make this appointment for free. You will need to write another check – but you should also be refunded your original application fee.
c) Here’s what you need for an in-person appointment: 1) another completed passport application (unsigned); 2) evidence of US citizenship, e.g. an official birth certificate (additional copies can be ordered at the Vital Records Division of your county or state of birth) if your previous passport is unattainable because you submitted it with your original application – a commenter has suggested that official birth certificates can be ordered more quickly through https://www.vitalchek.com/; 3) two passport photos; 4) valid photo identification; 5) proof of departure; and 6) the passport fee.
d) A reminder for in-person appointments for children’s passports (and this includes babies): both parents need to be present. If not, the absent parent must sign a notarized approval for the child to obtain the passport.
There is also the third world “fixer” approach to the U.S. passport issuance dilemma as I mentioned above – of questionable legality in my view. This approach is cropping up because our bureaucracy is so broken it cannot handle even this seemingly routine, fee for service process competently.
Meanwhile, please continue to share your experiences with us – both pro and con. Your advice can be crucial for others attempting to navigate the process successfully.
Previous WV posts on this topic: American international travelers beware: Don't Buy that Ticket Until Your Passport's In Hand (Feb. 7, 2007); US passport delays drag on at State (March 14, 2007); US Passport Delays to continue. . . (March 30, 2007); US Passport Problems Redux (April 12, 2007).