Global Travel Tomorrow; Passport Expired? Don’t Worry

I’ll forgo the drama momentarily and get to the important part: Yes, you can get a U.S. passport for your business or personal travel in one day (in fact, in a few hours) at one of the 30 U.S. Passport Agencies.

So, if it's a nice, Saturday afternoon prior to your international flight on Tuesday, and you’ve just realized your passport has expired like I did, relax! Or, if you’re at the airport for an early morning flight, and the agent tells you your passport is expired, relax. It will be OK.

Now that your heart rate has slowed and you aren’t trying to read through tears, I’ll share the drama—and the resolution—to my story, which involved the Chicago Passport Agency.

Like many of us in IT, I travel regularly for work. Most of my travel is in the U.S., but I do occasionally travel internationally. I traveled internationally in May 2017, and I even recall looking at my passport at the time, thinking: “Wow! It’s been 10 years already! I have to renew this in December.”

And that was the last time I thought about it.

Until Saturday, March 17, 2018, that is. I was getting ready for long-anticipated vacation to Costa Rica. I planned every minute of this family vacation, to the point of having a spreadsheet outlining each day. I also started harassing one of my daughters, whose passport had expired, three months prior to make sure she allowed plenty of time to get her renewal.

I opened our safe to get our passports and enter the passport numbers and expiration dates into the portal for our plane tickets (a “to-do” that was on my list for a few months, and kept getting deprioritized). The first passport I opened was my own—and that’s when I saw my expiration date of December 2017.

I literally could not believe my eyes. I went into full panic mode!

I must have another passport.

I know it’s not expired.

This can’t be!

I paced around my house, looking at the passport several times with the hopes that I missed something. I didn’t.

It. Was. Expired.

And I was scheduled to leave for O’Hare at 5 am on Tuesday. So, I started major Web-based research and social media outreaches to see if anyone else was ever so dumb as to plan a vacation-of-a-lifetime and fail to check her own passport expiration date, while checking everyone else’s in the family.

Quick answer: Many, many people are in the same boat. Many more than I realized. Here is what I learned and what I experienced in the next 48 hours:

  1. Do not use one of the 24-hour passport services unless you absolutely can’t get to a passport agency. You can find a list of agencies here:https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/where-to-apply/passport-agencies.html.  The passport expeditors charge $400-$500 for 24-hour service (plus the US passport fee of $170, which includes a $60 expedited fee), and they can’t always get the passport in the same day. For me, they would have had to get the passport on Monday, and then overnight it to me for Tuesday arrival. Given I had to leave at 5 am, that was a nonstarter.
  2. Go to the State Department web site here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/apply-in-person.html and fill out your forms ahead of time. Bring your expired passport and a check, credit card, or cash (exact change), as well as proof of your imminent travel (copy of your plane ticket or reservation) to the passport agency. I thought I would need my birth certificate, marriage license, social security card. But I needed none of that. There are different rules for minors, people who have lost their passports, and people who have changed their names. And I met people at the passport agency who had each of those situations and were able to get passports the same day, by the way.
  3. Though the web site says you need an appointment, you still can get a passport the same day without an appointment. (That really stressed me out because there were no appointments available for that Monday; soonest was Wednesday.) Most of the people at the Chicago Passport Agency that Monday morning did not have an appointment.
  4. Plan to arrive at the passport office before it opens. I arrived at about 7:20; the office opened at 8 a.m. I was the 12th person there. When you get there (in Chicago) veer to the left for security (similar to airport security). The room is large and well-lit, with four long rows of chairs. In front of the chairs are several customer-service windows.
  5. Much to my surprise, the people at the Passport Agency were incredibly helpful, efficient, and understanding. Those who had an appointment sat in the front row; those who didn’t sat in rows behind them—all governed by a security officer who directed people to the right place.
  6. When their workday started, the security officer directed people to windows, with the people with reservations going first, and then those without them heading to the windows in order of their arrival that day.
  7. Within about 15 minutes, I found myself at the window explaining my situation to a representative who seemed all too familiar with it. He took my old passport, photo, and forms. I paid for the expedited passport. And he said it would be ready after 2 pm. Had I needed to catch a flight that day (some did), it would have been ready in time for me to catch the flight. They prioritize those who need the passport immediately.
  8. Had I come from out of town or wanted to hang around, I could have waited in the cafeteria. Instead, I drove back home and returned at 2pm. When I arrived back at the same room, the security guard directed me to a window, where I provided my name and received a number. I waited for about 30 minutes more until I heard my number.

And finally. I had a new passport in hand. Sometimes, our government works quite well! (And as I write this, we’re in the midst of the government shutdown; passport offices are opened, though some offices may be in buildings that are closed. Check before you head out.)

For more details on expedited passports, visit this site: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/hurry.html


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