By PHK -February 26, 2010 - Update
Here are some unofficial tips for passport applicants (or soon to be applicants) based on what we’ve learned since WV’s first post on U.S. passport issuance delays in early February 2007.
This Question and Answer Tips Sheet is a work in progress and likely to remain so for some time. Many questions and answers here come – with WV thanks and appreciation – from previous WV commenters. To help keep the information relevant and as accurate as possible, we most appreciate hearing your experiences so others can learn from you as changes occur. We will keep a thread open for comments on WV's main page (look under Categories - US Passports and Visas to find the current one). You can help us - and others with similar problems to your own by leaving us a comment to tell us about your experiences. The comment thread on our latest post "Passport Problems Yet Again? - Ouch" is open.
Can't get through to the NPIC during regular working hours? See the above post for reasons . Meanwhile, the State Department suggests calling this 24/7 operation during non-peak hours or sending them an e-mail - e-mail address is located on the webpage. They promise a 72 hour turn around time.
The State Department application locator index usually works but there were problems spring 2009. The webpage advises applicants to call the NPIC - so when the locator index crashes, the NPIC call line will ring off the hook. Most passport applications are being issued within a four-six week turn around time. Check the webpage for updated information.
If you still can't reach the 24 hour NPIC call-in-service - even after a lengthy hold period on line and you have an emergency requiring a passport for international travel (e.g. you are leaving within 14 days or need to apply for a foreign visa(s) within a month) you may want to schedule an emergency appointment at the regional passport agency nearest you. If you are unable to do so through the NPIC which should be your first call, scroll down: the phone numbers and addresses are listed below.
can’t reach the NPIC or obtain an emergency appointment at the passport agency
nearest you, call (do not e-mail) the office of one of your
U.S. Congressional representatives. Their
constituency representatives have been incredibly helpful in resolving such
problems in the past.
Don't forget that the rules for international travel including land, sea and air to and from the Western Hemisphere changed June 1, 2009. Customs and Border Protection says, people are required to show a passport or equivalent document in order to pass through a port of entry" as of June 1, 2009. Here is a link to the requirements as stated by the State Department.
State Department Passport Fee Schedule as of February 18, 2010.
1. Q – When should I apply, or renew, my passport and what type of service should I request?
A - On January 18, 2010, the State Department's webpage said four to six weeks for non-expedited service. But give yourself additional time just to be sure and, overall, if at all possible apply during non-peak months (August-December).
First Time Applicants: If applying for the first time, plan to apply for NON-EXPEDITED passport service at least six weeks in advance of your departure date and for EXPEDITED service at least three weeks ahead providing you do not need to apply for a visa from the country or countries you plan to visit.
All first time applicants, or those whose passports have expired, been changed or mutilated need to apply in person through one of the over 9,000 offices that accept first time applications. These offices are indicated on the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs webpages.
Reports suggest that EXPEDITED SERVICE can sometimes produce a passport in a little as 10 days turn around time because such service ($60 more per passport, initial overnight delivery plus $14.96 for FEDEX overnight return delivery) places these passports at the head of the queues - but play it safe and allow 3 weeks. If 3 weeks (the processing time promised by State) have elapsed and you have not received your passport call your local Congressional Office for help.
If you apply for expedited service, mark EXPEDITE on the outside of the envelope, send it in overnight delivery and be sure to indicate your departure date on your application. If you also need a visa or multiple visas, use the term NEED DATE to indicate when you will need the passport to be able to obtain the visa (s) in time for your departure.
The State Department’s website indicates that a large majority of non-expedited passport book applications are completed within a 4-6 week period. 2007's long delays have been over for some time but there are occasionally delays and glitches in the system. If you need a visa, or visas, you will need to factor additional time into the equation and so indicate on your application form as indicated above.
B. – Renewals: If applying for a passport renewal, apply about eight months ahead of your expected departure date for NON-EXPEDITED service and at least seven months ahead for EXPEDITED service if you are planning to visit a country that will not issue visas or entry to someone with less than six months validity remaining on his or her passport. This now seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Otherwise, the time frame is the same as for First Time Applicants.
If EXPEDITED Processing and overnight FEDEX Service are still too slow to meet your needs, you can pay a private fixer – or passport courier – an additional fee (often between $160 and $400) to obtain your passport in a turn-around time of about 36-48 hours. We do not endorse this approach, do not recommend expediters, but it is an option in a pinch. The LA Times January 26, 2008 "Everything you need to know about U.S. passport rules" provides links to expediters for both passport books and passport cards.
If you decide to use an expediter, check the company’s legitimacy and track-record carefully before trusting your sensitive personal documents to it. Another possibility is to obtain an in-person emergency appointment at one of the US Passport Agencies or the one Gateway Passport Agency if you are traveling or need your passport in order to get a visa within the next 2 weeks. To do so call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) to schedule an appointment to apply in person at the Passport Agency nearest you. If you can't get through, call the passport agency directly providing you can find the local phone number.
(NOTE: For in-person applications use unsigned FORM DS-82. For mail-in applications use and sign FORM DS-11.)
Before you appear at a passport agency for an emergency passport, however, try to find out the expected wait time and how applicants are handled. In 2007, at some agencies prior appointments meant nothing. At others, they were honored. Certain agencies function better than others. No rule fits all and agencies seemed to change requirements almost on whim: what worked yesterday may not today. All appointments are free of charge. They all, however, prioritize in terms of planned date of travel.
A CATCH-22: IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO SWITCH TO A PRIVATE EXPEDITER AFTER HAVING SUBMITTED A PASSPORT APPLICATION TO THE PASSPORT AGENCY. IT’S EITHER/OR.
It is possible, however, to switch from NONEXPEDITED to EXPEDITED service after you have submitted your application. One way to do so is to ask for help from a Congressional representative or check with the State Department at one of the telephone numbers listed in the Answers to Question 5 below.
September 7, 2007 Update tip on upgrading from NONEXPEDITED to EXPEDITED: A helpful Congressional intern suggests that "the least error prone way to expedite a pending application is to mail a check for the expedite fee to the agency that is processing the application, attention customer service (write expedite on the outside envelope as well)." To figure out which agency you need to contact see answer to Question 4 below regarding locator numbers. The State Department 'guarantees' that the passport will be ready to go within ten days after they process the EXPEDITE. You might also want to include a prepaid return mail label for some kind of express mail. You can also request an upgrade to EXPEDITE through the NPIC using a credit card. A proviso: This may, or may not work.
It is also possible to apply again at an in-person emergency appointment at one of 16 Passport Agencies (list below) if your passport application was not completed within 14 calendar days of your departure.
2. Q - How can I ensure my application is handled as quickly and efficiently as possible?
A - Complete the questions on the application form as fully and as legibly as you can. Use your residence, not post office box, as your permanent address. Include all documentation requested. Include travel departure date. Be sure to sign and date the form, double check for accuracy and completion – discrepancies in signatures and dates are red flags for fraud investigators. If you are delinquent in child support payments, your passport application will be rejected. You might also consider mailing the application Certified - return receipt requested, at least then you know it did not get lost in the mail.
A tip from a Congressional intern: if you also need to apply for a visa to a foreign country before your departure, use, and keep using the term "need date" along with the date you need the passport. Include the "need date" on your application and use this term with the State Department officials and also Congressional staff when in contact with them.
If you are applying for passports for two or more people in the same envelope, include separate checks – one with each application. During the passport process, applications can get separated and only one credited. The other(s) can sit in passport limbo because of supposed “non payment.”
Another tip from a commenter: California and Texas now issue two types of BIRTH CERTIFICATES: a long form and a shorter abstract. Certain Passport Agencies will only accept the long form so be sure you submit the long one. This seems to be yet another stealth “rule change” that is beginning to trip people up – including the USPS. And keep another official copy of that official long form in the event you need to reapply in person.
3. Q – Where can I find the status of my passport application?
A. Here is one place online that normally helps. It may or may not be kept up-to-date, the computer system may crash and you will either need to use the e-mail (72 hour turn around time promised) or call the overloaded NPIC after hours. Chances are, if you are having problems with the website so are others and the phone lines will be overloaded. If neither works and you are within seven days of departure, get in touch immediately with your Congressional representative and ask for help. Also notify the State Department - using one of the telephone numbers listed in the Answer to Question 5 below.
If your application is not found, it may or may not mean that it has not cleared the first stage of a multi-step process. There could be several reasons:
• Citibank is not living up to its 24 hour turn around time as stipulated in its contract - although this problem seems to have been fixed late spring 2007;
• Your application did not arrive, or is otherwise lost in the system’s early stages.
• The data has not been entered into the system although your passport is, in fact, being processed or the data entered is incorrect. For instance, your name could be misspelled, your date of birth incorrect, or whatever. In any case, if you have entered the requested information correctly on the webpage and nothing appears, ask for help sooner rather than later.
4. Q - Is the National Passport Center in Washington, DC? How can I tell where my passport is being processed? Is it the same place where I submitted my application?
The National Passport Center(NPC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is open and functioning as usual as of February 19, 2010. The NPC in New Hampshire handles the largest number of mail-in passport applications.The NPC in New Hampshire did yeoman's work during the passport issuance crisis in 2007
The passport centers in Charleston, South Carolina and Tucson, Arizona also handle large numbers of passport applications. The Western Passport Center in Tucson is also accessible to the public for individual appointments. Neither New Hampshire nor Charleston are open to the public as of February 26, 2010. The distribution of applications to New Hampshire, Charleston and Tucson varies. Their workloads are adjusted based on a weekly assessment of the number of applications received.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) - a major call-in center - that used to be in Dover, New Hampshire has been closed. For routine problems, the State Department would dearly like you to contact the National Passport Information Center (NPIC). The NPIC is run by two contractors - the prime one run by Peckham Inc. is located in Lansing, Michigan and the secondary one is run by Vangent, Inc. is located in Phoenix, Arizona. The NPIC operates as a centralized calling center.
NPIC customer service representatives are available from 8 am - 10 pm Monday-Friday for general passport information and to check on the status of pending passport applications. An automated system that operates 24/7 allows callers to schedule weekday appointments at regional passport agencies when traveling or needing a passport within 14 days.
However, this does not tell you where a passport is actually being processed.
What readers tell us is that the first two digits of an application locator number indicate the place where a passport is being processed.
Here is what previous commenters have been able to identify with respect to locator numbers which I understand are still very much in use. Please note: if you are given an eight digit number that begins with a 0, like 029 or 030, just drop the zero to locate the appropriate passport agency. These numbers just cannot be used to access your personal information via the webpage
August 1, 2007 Note: when matching your locator number with the location of the passport agency where it is being processed count the number of digits. If it is 8, rather than 9 digits long, put a 0 at the beginning. Therefore, an 8 digit number that begins with 18. . . means the passport agency is Washington, DC (01 . . .)
01 – Washington, DC Passport Agency 1111 19th Street, NW, Room 300, Washington, DC 20522-1705. Appointments: (202) 647-0518.
02 – Chicago Passport Agency Kluczynski Federal Office Building 230 S. Dearborn Street, Suite 1800 Chicago, IL 60604-1564. Appointments: (877)487-2778.
03 & 50 – Los Angeles Passport Agency Federal Building 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000 Los Angeles, CA 90024-3615. Appointments: (310) 575-5700.
04 – Miami Passport Agency Claude Pepper Federal Office Building 51 SW First Avenue, 3rd Floor Miami, FL 33130-1680. Appointments: (877) 487-2778 or (504)412-2600.
05 – San Francisco Passport Agency 95 Hawthorne Street, 5th Floor San Francisco, CA 94105-3901 Appointments: (415)538-2700
06 & 11 – New York Passport Agency, Greater Manhattan Federal Bldg., 376 Hudson Street, 10th flr. New York, NY 10014 Appointments: (212)206-3500
07 – Seattle, Washington Passport Agency Henry Jackson Federal Building 915 Second Avenue, Suite 992 Seattle, WA 98174-1091 Appointments: (877) 487-2778 or (206)808-5700
08 & 40 – New Orleans Passport Agency One Canal Place 365 Canal Street, Suite 1300 New Orleans, LA 70130-6508. Appointments: (504)412-2600 (or try 504-412-2699 - although reports are that the response is erratic)
09 – Philadelphia Passport Agency U.S. Custom House 200 Chestnut Street, Room 103 Philadelphia, PA 19106-2970. Appointments: (877)487-2778 or try (215)597-5970 or (215)418-5937
10 – Boston Passport Agency Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Building 10 Causeway Street, Suite 247 Boston, MA 02222-1094 Public Phone: (617)878-0900
12 – Honolulu Passport Agency Prince Kuhio Federal Building 300 Ala Moana Blvd., #1 Box 50185 Honolulu, HI 96850 Public Phone: (808)522-8283
13 – Houston Passport Agency Mickey Leland Federal Building 1919 Smith Street, Suite 1100 Houston, TX 77002-8049. Public Phone: (713)751-0294
14 – Connecticut Passport Agency 50 Washington St. Norwalk, CT 06854 Appointments: (203) 299-5443
17 – Colorado Passport Agency Cherry Creek III 3151 South Vaughn Way, Suite 600 Aurora, CO 80014 Appointments: 1-877-487-2778
15, 20, 21 & 22 – the National Passport Center in New Hampshire. (no in person emergency appointments) 31 Rochester Avenue Portsmouth, NH 03801-2900 Fax: 603/334-0596 Status Checks: 603/334-0525 Public Phone: 603/334-0500 (Brief recorded information. No public counter.)
30 & 31 – Charleston, South Carolina Timothy Wiesnet, Charleston Passport Center 1269 Holland Street Charleston, SC 29405 Public Phone: (843)746-1681 (Brief recorded information. No public counter.) Other numbers to try: 1-843-746-1690, 1691, 1692; fax: 843-746-1747; check status: 843-746-1701; passport expedited: 843-746-1690
NOTE: from commenter re Charleston, “I phoned the number listed and played around with the last 4 digits – 1690, 1691, 1692 (I think, the one that finally was answered on a Saturday was 1692).”
Special Issuance Agency, 1111 19th Street, NW Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.
Three new passport agencies were opened summer/fall 2009. They are in Dallas, Minneapolis and Tucson and the State Department plans to open additional ones most near the borders with Canada and Mexico within the next 18 months in St. Albans, Vermont; Buffalo, NY; El Paso, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Diego, California "to serve the travel needs of customers in states near" the borders.
Here are the addresses:
Dallas, Texas: US Passport Agency, Earl Cabell Federal Building, 1100 Commerce St., Suite 1120, Dallas, Texas 75242 Tel: 877-482-2778
Minneapolis, Minnesota: US Passport Agency, US Federal Office Building (The "Old" Federal Building), 212 Third Ave, S., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401 Tel: 877-482-2778
Tucson, Arizona: Western Passport Agency, 7373 East Rosewood Street, Tucson, Arizona 85701, Tel: (877)487-2778 or try 520-740-8333
There are now two passport printing facilities: one is in Hot Springs, Arkansas and the other is in Tucson, Arizona.
Driving directions to the regional passport agencies can be found by clicking on the name of the specific agency in question. http://travel.state.gov/passport/about/agencies/agencies_913.html
5. Q – What happens if I’m within two weeks of my planned departure to a country other than those included in the Western Hemisphere Initiative or need a visa from another country and my passport has not arrived?
A – Here is what the Department says: “If you are leaving, or you need your passport for a foreign visa, within 14 days and need to make an appointment at a Regional Passport Agency: Automated lines to make appointments are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The best time to call is between 8:30 p.m. and 9 a.m., Eastern Time.” (1-877-487-2778).
One commenter suggests calling 877-487-2778, then hitting #1 English but not to go through the loop. Press #2 Yes, then hit the passport agency you want and #1 new appointment. Do a first available search for dates.
Another suggests calling 877-487-2778 between 6-8 am ET. This is when canceled appointments are posted. This is an automated service so choose “first available appointment” prompt, then if need be, select “next day.” Continue to use the “next day” prompt until you locate one.
We suggest that if you have not received your passport and are due to travel internationally in two weeks, call the NPIC (877-487-2778) or send an e-mail to see if it has been mailed yet. If it has not, ask the person to send a message to the passport agency requesting an expedite. If you can't find your locator number on line, ask the Congressional service representative (CSR) at the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) for it. Here are a timeline and suggestions from an incredibly helpful Congressional intern who deals with passport delay problems on a daily basis. You may also contact your closest regional passport agency and make an in-person appointment.
If you can't get through to the NPIC call your local US Congressional District Office (don’t e-mail). Some offices are more helpful and effective than others. Ask others in your area which member of Congress (House or Senate) is the most helpful in dealing with passport issuance problems. Much seems to depend upon the knowledge of the staffer or staff assigned passport delay problem duty, the cooperativeness of the passport agency where your passport is being processed, and the staffer's persistence and creativity in navigating an ever changing, frustrating maze. Do not call a state legislator or your governor. This will just delay the process.
Some commenters have also been successful by calling one or the other telephone numbers not listed on State’s passport information webpage:
Tel: 606-526-7600 (a Kentucky call center overflow number) Tel: 202-647-7948 (the Passport Task Force number at the State Department)
Callers have gotten through on the 877 toll free number but service was erratic last spring and summer. Wait-times were lengthy with callers ejected from the queue. This, however, is the number that the Bureau of Consular Affairs insists everyone use and is the only one it publicizes.
If you use 877 and can't get through easily, call early in the morning Eastern Time or late a night. You may also need to use the 9-3-1 'trick' or another approach (see Question 6 below).
STILL HAVING PROBLEMS REACHING A HUMAN? Here is a link to an online alphabetical directory of State Department employees: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/82073.pdf found by one of our commenters.
To locate telephone numbers for a particular passport agency office, you will need to search for the appropriate office symbols. CA/PPT NO (for instance) should provide one of the New Orleans Passport Agency’s telephone numbers.
The business hours are listed on State’s regional passport agencies webpage may be outdated.
The webpage also states that all regional passport agencies accept emergency appointments take people within 14 days of travel. Since the passport crunch seems to be over for now we suggest calling the passport agency in question to find out their policy on emergency appointments if the 877 number can not help.
6. Q - What is the 1-3-1, 9-3-1 trick? The 1-3-1, 9-3-1- trick can help navigate State’s automated toll free 1-877-482-2778.
Here’s how one commenter explained it: “The ‘9-3-1’ trick...when they try to kick you off the 800 number with ‘All our agents are busy and we can not answer your call at this time’....hit ‘9 ‘, ‘3’ and then ‘1’ and it takes you back to ‘please hold’ without having to redial. It worked for me several times and I got through in about 20 minutes. Then you get music but that is a good sign, a real person comes soon after.”
And another: Here's the toll-free number trick: Don't listen to the recorded voice garbage. Just move through the prompts by pressing 1-3-1. Then when that lovely male recorded voice tells you that they can't answer your call and to call back, hit 9, then 3-1 to go back in the loop. It may take you a while of doing that continually before you actually get through to someone, but this is not a process for the faint-of-heart. There is no call queue, so one is left with no choice but persistence - if you actually want to speak to a living human being.
Other commenters suggested pretending you have a rotary phone and waiting through the electronic prompts for operator assistance. “I used the trick I read here of not using our touchtone phone to select any options, including not selecting 1 for English - just as if you were using an old rotary phone. For the first time in about 50 calls I actually ended up talking to someone. I was put on hold for about 25 minutes, including an initial period of recorded music ... that abruptly stopped about 12 minutes into the call. I decided to hang on through about 10 more minutes of total silence on the phone and it paid off. A real person finally answered and was very helpful.”
Another suggestion: “I highly recommend off hours calls” (so does the State Department) and go through the customer service representatives. The direct line (option 2 on the 877-482-2778 number) doesn't work. Use option 1 and ask to be transferred.
7. Q - What if my new passport arrives but some of the information on it is incorrect?
A. Here is a link to the State Department instruction sheet as to how to deal with such mistakes. This is one reason we recommend applying early because of the time it will take for the corrections. If there's a minor misspelling glitch, for instance, and you there's no time to wait for a correction, travel anyway. Correct it when you return.
If this does not work, contact a helpful and knowledgeable Congressional staffer or call the Passport Task Force (202-647-7948) at the State Department for assistance and advice. If someone can provide a better answer, please do so.
8. Q - What if I decide to change to expedited service after I mailed in my application?
A. Call a member of Congress and ask a staffer for help in expediting your passport based on your departure date. It can be done. Sometimes you can also expedite it yourself through a call to the State Department or the Regional Passport Agency that is assigned to process it.
9. Q – What do I need to tell the Congressional staffer or State Department representative when pursuing a passport issuance problem?
A - 1. The passport application locator number if available on the State Department website or by calling the toll free 1-877-482-2778, the non-toll free 1-606-526-7600. If neither numbers work try the Passport Task Force: 202-647-7948. The locator number is the single most important piece of information you can provide a staffer but it is not mandatory if you've tried to get it and it is unavailable. Congressional staff can still help.
With it, a staffer can contact the appropriate passport agency and ask that agency to locate the application and move it forward for faster processing to help ensure you will not miss your trip.
The staffer also may be asked for: 2) the name of the applicant as it appears on the passport application; 3) the applicant’s date of birth; 4) the applicant’s social security number; 5) the applicant’s travel departure date, time, method and location of travel; and 6) address and telephone number. So if you want to ensure that "all your ducks are in a row, you can insist (but do it politely) that the staffer take down all the above information."
NOTE: We’ve heard requests for passport agency “batch” numbers but one commenter has advised that it was not necessary.
If it turns out that none of your three members of Congress are helpful, shop around. You might try asking for assistance from a member of Congress in a neighboring district. Please also let your local media know if someone has been particularly helpful – or not. Meanwhile don’t lose your temper.
Be polite but persistent. (NOTE: This advice holds for dealing with the State Department and Passport Agency employees as well.)
If you have no locator number and you are within 14 days of travel, you may well need an emergency in person appointment at the passport agency office nearest to you. There are 16 located throughout the US . To reach the Automated Appointment Service see Q.5 above.
You can try to make an appointment yourself using an automated number or you can ask a Congressional staffer to help make an appointment. The passport office can issue the passport on the spot – or at least within a matter of hours after your appointment.
This may mean, however, taking the time off work, making a lengthy drive, an overnight stay and/or taking the kids out of school or summer camp. A Congressional staffer can make this appointment for free. But as we've stated earlier, some Agencies honor appointments, others screen for departure dates. You will need to write another check – but you should also be refunded your original application fee.
Here’s what you need for an in-person appointment:
1) another completed passport application (use an unsigned form DS-82 for in-person appointments only. Form DS-11 is now reserved for applications submitted by mail);
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)* Another option is a non-mutilated previous passport providing you retained one;
3) two passport photos;
4) valid photo identification;
5) proof of departure and copy of original application receipt if you have it;
6) passport book fees. As of January 18, 2010, the fee for non-expedited service is as follows: "Age 16 and older: The application fee for a new passport is $75. The execution fee is $25. The total is $100. Under Age 16: The passport application fee is $60. The execution fee is $25. The total is $85. Renewals for adults are $95. Tack on $60 for expedited service plus costs for overnight delivery. A passport book is valid for air, land and sea entry.
7) the passport card fee is $20 for adults and $10 for children plus $25 execution fee for each. Renewals for adults are $20 per card. The passport card is valid for land and sea travel only. Validity dates are the same as for the passport book.
2)* If your official birth certificate (or previous passport) is in passport hell because you submitted it with your original application – one commenter suggested that official birth certificates can often be ordered more quickly through http://www.vitalchek.com/ for a fee. We endorse no private companies so you may wish to check around for others that offer similar services.
From a commenter from Dallas: Vital check takes at least a few days (4?) depending on what state. My son's birth certificate was in New Jersey, so I called the city registrar and was able to make a copy of my license, sign a request for it and fed ex it to them with a money order and a fed ex envelope for a return. All in all in cost $60, but I sent it on Monday and had it by Wednesday. Perhaps that is an option for you so call the registrar and see if he or she would do this.
10. Q- What do I need to fly to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or Bermuda for vacation? A valid US passport book.
11. Q – Does the Western Hemisphere Initiative apply to land and sea travel as well as air?
A – Yes. The passport book (passport card for frequent land and sea travelers or other documents approved by the Department of Homeland Security) requirement for surface travel was implemented summer 2008. Check the State Department's web page for current requirements.
12. Q – How can I get a refund if I applied for expedited service and did not receive it?
A – As of June 26, you will need to apply for a refund as described on the State Department’s website. It is clear members of Congress want the fee automatically refunded to everyone who applied and did not receive the promised service, but this requires State Department legal approval before it can be implemented. Expect this decision to change: the question is when.
13. Q - How can I reach the State Department or one of its Passport Agencies to inquire about the status of my passport application?
A – The State Department lists the following toll-free number for passport port issuance problems on its webpage: 1-877-482-2778.
If you have problems getting through, try around 6 am or very late in the evening. If you’re kicked off because the number is jammed try the 1-3-1, 9-3-1 (as described above) trick to keep your call in the answering service loop. If you are within 14 days of travel (or need a visa) see timeline and guidelines from a Congressional intern. Begin with a call to the 1-877-482-2778 number as described in the guidelines.
Depending upon what you learn, you may also need to enlist assistance from a Congressional staffer, the Passport Task Force or the appropriate Passport Agency. A Congressional staffer is often your best help. Be concise when you call and don't be afraid to pass on telephone numbers for the various passport agencies from this tips sheet. Some Congressional offices do not have them. Charleston prefers e-mails but most others prefer phone calls from Congressional staff. If a staffer can't get through or the answer is not positive by two days before you plan to depart, have a staffer contact both the National Passport Information Center and the local agency. See #5 on timeline and guidance suggestions for information as how to handle it.
14. Q - What does it mean when I’m told my passport application is in the "lock box" or in "suspension"?
A – The term “lock box” means that it is still at one of the two financial offices under contract to the US Treasury Department. They are operated by Citibank and are located in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
This is the first stage of a multi-step process (We’ve heard different numbers of stages from different people). It is where checks are extracted from an application, cashed, a locator number is/was recorded on the State Department’s webpage that is/was accessible to the applicant and the application and supporting documents are sent to one of the 15 passport agency offices for processing.
Upon receipt of the application, Citibank has a 24 hour turn around time. Therefore, the Department now states that 7-10 days from the time you mailed your application the first step for unexpedited passport applications should be completed.
We have also seen the term lock box used for the location where passports are stored once they have arrived at a passport agency but have yet to be processed. We have also been told that the State Department is using the initials LT for this in limbo status, or say that the application has not been processed yet. This is "a very bad status to be in because it is difficult for the Passport Agency employees to retrieve it," according to a Congressional intern who recommends that you ask your Congressional representative to contact the agency in question immediately.
The term "suspension" means that the application has been "looked at by an adjudicator, but the adjudicator has determined that the evidence submitted is not sufficient to issue the passport. The passport agency then sends a letter to the applicant requesting additional documentation. The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) also has access to the letter's text. Usually an applicant will need to overnight (if travel is soon) the documents to the agency in question. It typically takes only a day or two for an application to leave the suspend status once the paperwork has been received. If your travel is urgent (usually 2-3 days) then the agency sometimes accepts faxed paperwork instead."
15. Q- What are the other stages?
A. The most important follow-on ones are ‘adjudication,’ data entry, printing and mailing.
ADJUDICATION: means a passport application is checked for accuracy – to see whether you are who your application and supporting documents say you are and whether or not you meet all qualifications. Delinquent child support and fraud are two reasons someone does not qualify for a passport. Adjudication is done at one of the 15 passport agency offices by permanent US government employees who are passport and/or fraud specialists. (Much of the rest of this part of the operation is done through outsourcing to contractors.)
Mail-in applications are processed at a very few Passport Agencies including Charleston, South Carolina. All others are distributed across the country. All others do.
Data is then entered electronically at the agency where the passport was adjudicated.
PRINTING. Until recently, almost all passports have been assembled and printed at one of the 15 passport agencies at the same place where the adjudication takes place. Two passport agency printing facilities are now operating. One is in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The plant, run by Stanley Associates, receives electronic data from the passport agencies. It then prints the passports and mails them to the recipient. Meanwhile the passport agency that conducted the application adjudication will return the supporting documents to the recipient. The second passport book printing facility is open in Tuscon, Arizona.
Whether this will, in reality, be more efficient and less error prone is a question time will tell. If your passport is printed at the Hot Springs Facility or the Aurora, Colorado Passport Agency, it will contain the new embedded identity computer chip (RFID). Because of the bifurcated process due to the Hot Springs Facility, passports are mailed from Hot Springs while supporting documents are separately returned from the appropriate passport agency.
MAILING. Usually done through USPS or FedEx. Shipping time depends on type requested and amount paid although State has been known to FEDEX passports to individuals if it knows that it will make a difference as to whether they are able to travel or not. In the past, State was supposed to FEDEX any passport that is subject of a Congressional inquiry.
Beware: A shipment tracking number is a good sign but does not mean a passport is yet in the mail. Best bet is to check the FedEx system itself.
16. Q – I’m just a few days away from departure and my new passport has not arrived even though I followed State Department’s guidelines at the time of my application. Can I just show up at a passport agency and expect to be served without an appointment?
A- This is yet another fuzzy part in the application process. Some agencies require appointments, others say they do, but in reality do not. The bottom line is some passport agencies handle in-person appointments far better than others. If you think this is the third world: it is. Passport agencies that have been reported to take walk-ins include Philadelphia; San Francisco; Aurora, Colorado; Miami and Washington, DC. Philadelphia was reportedly disregarding appointments in 2007 as was San Francisco - but this may have changed.
17. Q – I need an emergency in-person appointment to obtain a passport for a child. What do I need to bring with me?
A – (This includes babies): both parents need to be present for minors under the age of 16 and sign the application.
If the baby was born in Texas or California bring the long, not abstract, official birth certificate. Several Passport Agencies have recently indicated that they will only accept the long form so better to be safe than sorry.
A tip from a commenter on sole custody: "You will need to submit the entire original document, not just the front page and page with the line about granting sole custody." It needs to be official. WV Note: The issue of sole custody is not addressed in the new Feb. 1, 2008 requirements.