As Americans, our culture oftentimes exhibits an unrealistic need for instant gratification. We want our deliverables, whether online or in the service industry, to be faster, easier, smarter and convenient. We have become accustomed to immediate feedback and delivery, all while eroding our ability to be patient. This reality is bound to cause a lot of problems in the next 18 months for Americans who want to travel internationally and don’t yet have a passport.
The U.S. Department of State, responsible for issuing passports, recently stated, “In 2007, we experienced an unprecedented surge in applications, issuing over 18 million passports as a result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Nearly 10 years later, those passports are beginning to expire, and there is an increased demand for passport renewals. We issued over 15.5 million passports in the fiscal year 2015 and the increased demand is expected to continue through 2018.” This equates to delays in processing.
This problem is further exacerbated by the Real ID Act of 2005. Starting Jan 22, 2018, depending on the state that you live in, you may need a passport or other TSA approved ID to travel domestically. Your state ID or driver’s license may no longer be enough to board the plane. While this change makes flying even harder, it was initiated over 10 years ago as a counterterrorism measure proposed by the 9/11 Commission. In 2005, this commission gave state governments stricter criteria for state ID and driver’s licenses. Despite the now 11-year grace period to improve ID standards, not all states have adjusted their ID to meet the more robust criteria.
These changes and restrictions clash with our need for instant gratification, especially if you have the opportunity to take a last minute trip, but have not yet applied for proper documentation. Here are the four ways you can get a U.S. passport.
Option 1: Normal Processing by Mail
If you plan ahead, you can apply for your passport by mail which takes approximately six-to-eight weeks. The Department of State website will always list an estimate of current processing times, however, it’s a good idea to assume they will take a week longer than listed. Application forms and various resources are available on this website to help you get the job done right. The fee for the passport is $110 for adults and $80 for kids age 15 and younger.
Option 2: Expedited Processing by Mail
The logistics of getting your passport expedited by mail are the same as the first option. Processing currently takes approximately 2-3 weeks. There is a $60 expedite fee, so the fee for the passport is $170 for adults and $140 for kids age 15 and younger. This is a great option if you are short on time and have an upcoming trip planned.
Option 3: Apply in Person at a Regional Passport Agency
In order to get your passport expedited at a Regional Passport Agency, you need to make an appointment and show that you are traveling out of the country in two weeks or less (most applicants print a copy of their flight itinerary). Check here to see a list of Passport Agencies where you can appear in person. The processing time is typically one-to-eight business days, but the exact turnaround time will depend upon which Regional Passport Agency you visit and their current ability to process your passport. If you are making an appointment with the need for one or two-day turnaround, it is advised to get reassurance before you appear so that the Passport Agency can accommodate you that quickly. It is possible to show up at a Regional Passport Agency without an appointment, but it is not advised. There is a $60 expedite fee, so the fee for the passport is $170 for adults and $140 for kids age 15 and younger.
Option 4: Use an Expedited Service
This service was made for the last-minute business traveler (and maybe even the procrastinating millennial). It’s a great option if you don’t have any wiggle room and need the service to be pulled off without any delays. Processing times typically range from 1-15 business days, so you have control over how quickly the passport is processed. You can lock into a specified processing time frame. Fees for such services typically range from $100-$400 in addition to the government fees ($170 and $140 like the previous options above). A good passport expediting service will provide you with all of the forms and resources you need to get your passport and will check your application packet to prevent delays.
In conclusion, it is advised that you get a passport or other TSA-approved ID now if you don’t already have one, especially if you plan to travel in the next 18 months. Be sure to check back with the US Department of Homeland Security for all updates on the compliance status of your state if you plan to travel domestically in the next 18 months, as this information is very fluid and subject to change. There will be a lot of unhappy travelers who can’t get ID to travel domestically AND internationally in time, but remember, this is a preventable problem that does not need to negatively impact your travel plans. Take care of it now, and happy travels, wherever life may take you!
Laurie Lee is CEO of Swift Passport and Visa Services. She heads client acquisition and oversees corporate accounts at Swift. Swift is an innovative U.S. Passport and international visa expediting service. With Swift, you can obtain one in as little as 8 hours. They turn the often complicated and daunting visa application process into a refreshingly simple and hassle-free experience. With Swift, you can count on a friendly, experienced staff of passport and visa experts to help you get the job done on time so that you don’t have to worry about missing important international trips.
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