Renew Your Passports Without Stress

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I just renewed our passports. We’ll be traveling in late October, and our passports were set to expire in December. Since most countries require visitors to have at least six months remaining on their passport before it expires, we went ahead and took care of it. Here are a few things worth mentioning. For local folks, we had our passport photos taken at Advanced Photo Imaging on Tolman Creek Road in Ashland. Advanced Photo is friendly and quick, and passport photos cost $12 each. Please note, you can smile in your passport photo, but you can’t show your teeth. Huh. Also, no eyeglasses allowed.

We each filled out the simple renewal application, and sent them along with our old passports, our new passport photos, and two checks for $110 each. We opted to get passports with extra pages (for no additional charge) in the hopes that we travel so much that we’ll need more pages for more stamps.

Our new passports, which are good for ten years, arrived in about six weeks. We did get our old passports back too, but they came in separate envelopes, on another day. (Because apparently it would just be too difficult to save money on postage and send them back in the same envelope as the new passports I suppose.)

A few important things worth noting: there are many online companies who can assist (for a fee mind you) in renewing passports. Although some offer “expedited services” if you are in a big hurry, it appears to me that their other services are something any capable person can do on their own, and save the additional costs. The State Department does have expedited services available as well, if there is a life or death emergency abroad, or a passport is needed within 2-3 weeks. There are additional fees for expedited services.

My best advice is that if you have an expired or soon to be expired passport go ahead and renew it ASAP. You never know when someone is going to offer to whisk you away to Paris at a moment’s notice. And it would be a shame if you had to turn that down because your passport was expired.

 

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Every Picture Tells a Story

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_3357I love my passport. It’s great fun to look at the stamps inside, reminisce, and in some cases try to decipher where they’re from (as they’re not always legible).  I love taking a look at my expired passports too. I’ve managed to hold on to my last three, and it’s fun to see how I’ve aged my passport photo has changed over the years.  Fortunately, when you renew, you can get your old passport back, to take a walk down memory lane.

Beginning in 2016, US citizens will no longer be able to add extra pages to their passports. No matter what your expiration date is, if you run out of room for stamps you’ll have to apply for a new one. The US State Department says they’ve done away with adding extra pages “for security reasons.” Regular passports are 28 pages, but beginning in 2016, you can apply for a super-sized, 52-page passport.

IMG_3359

Here are a few other little known rules and facts about US Passports:

  • Some countries require two to four blank visa/stamp pages in a passport, South Africa for example. You can check any country’s passport requirements on the US State Department’s country information page.
  • Your passport expiration date must be at least six months away when traveling to most countries. Again, you can check the State Department’s information page for those countries requiring the six months, but a better idea is to just renew your passport eight months before it expires.
  • Certain citizens can be approved to have two passports. I find this ruling awesome. If you are a frequent traveler to countries that require visas, the State Department may see fit to issue you a second passport. This is because you have to send your passport away to a country’s embassy to obtain a visa, and if you’re a frequent international traveler, you may need a passport to travel somewhere else while your first passport is getting the visa. You may also be issued a second passport if a country you’ve visited is on unfriendly terms with a country you plan to visit. Having a stamp from a country at war with a country in which you’d like to travel may prove a bit problematic, so this rule makes a good deal of sense to me. In both instances you’ll have to pay full price for your second passport. Sorry, no quantity discounts.
  • You cannot smile in your passport photo. It’s true, the rules state that in passport photos, citizens must have a “neutral” expression. Both eyes must be open, and the mouth closed. A smile with a closed jaw is allowed, but not preferred. This apparently helps with facial recognition.
  • If your passport has been significantly damaged, especially the cover or the page displaying your personal data and photo, you will need to apply for a new passport. Conditions that may constitute damage requiring replacement include water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), a hole punch, or other injuries.

When an Expiration Date is not Really an Expiration Date

by Nancy Bestor

passportUS passports for adults are good for 10 years. I got mine in December of 2007 which means it will expire in December, 2017. But if I want to travel to say, Ecuador, my passport really will expire on June 1, 2017. Huh? It is somewhat confusing, but a growing number of countries (currently more than 50) require US Citizens to have at least six months remaining on their passport upon entry into their country. The reason for this is a little vague to me. One thing I’ve heard is that the US started requiring foreign citizens to have at least six months on their passports when visiting the US, so other countries are just returning the favor. Other things I’ve read says it keeps tourists from staying over their allotted number of days on a visa, which for many of these countries is good for six months. Whatever the reason, many travelers have realized too late that their passport expiration date is not good enough when traveling to a pretty good sized list of countries around the world.

The best advice I can give regarding passport expiration is that you should renew your passport about nine months before it is set to expire. Write it down on your calendar, or set your Smartphone calendar app to give you a message at the nine month mark. This way you’ll have plenty of time to send your passport in for renewal, and you won’t have to worry about your passport “expiring” if a last minute trip to Thailand or Trinidad & Tobago comes up. Oh to be so fortunate.

And since countries always seem to be altering their entry requirements, you can get the most up to date information for any country at the US State Department’s website. Just type in the country you are interested in to find out exactly what you’ll need to visit. I’m gonna look up French Polynesia and hope that a last minute trip magically appears in my near future.

Renewing Our Passports or Wasting Two+ Hours of Our Time

passportsby Nancy Bestor

Our two daughter’s passports expired last month, and since we’re headed to Peru in March, we wanted to get them renewed as soon as possible. If you’re over 18, you can send in your renewal application with your old passport and renew by mail. If you are renewing the passport of a minor, or an adult who was under 16 when their previous passport was issued, you must renew in person, at a government passport office. Both parents must be in attendance (or you may be able to bring a notarized letter from one parent), as must the person renewing their passport.

We arrived at the Medford Post Office passport office at 11:10am. Two hours and 20 minutes later, we were done. That’s right two hours and 20 minutes later. And there were only nine people in line ahead of us when we arrived. When we got into line, the woman ahead of us told us that she had tried to renew her passport the day before. After waiting 90 minutes however, the office closed for lunch (even though their posted hours are 9:30-3:00), and she had to go back to work. A gentleman ahead of us waited two hours, was told he did not have the correct documentation, and was sent away.

We weren’t worried though. We knew we had all the documents necessary, and our paperwork was filled out correctly, so we figured when it finally got to be our turn, we would be in and out in less than 10 minutes. We figured wrong. Our 18-year-old had both her old passport (which had expired the previous month), and her birth certificate for identification. She did not have her driver’s license. Both passport office employees really wanted to see a driver’s license and were quite concerned as to whether we had enough legal documentation to prove her identity. Although her passport was legal proof, because it had expired they did not believe the main passport office would allow it. But right on the application, which we picked up in their office, it clearly stated in plain English that a passport, current or expired, was legal proof of identity. Despite this, our friendly Medford passport office employees fretted. They also hemmed and hawed. They even made some phone calls on this issue, and a few others. All this went on for nearly 30 minutes, until we finally said we would take our chances that the main office would issue our daughter a new passport with the documentation provided. And lo and behold, her new passport came in the mail yesterday.

Passport Renewal Advice:

  • Renew your passport well before you intend to travel. If your passport is set to expire, but you don’t have a new trip on the books, go ahead and renew your passport anyway. The last thing you need is to have to put a rush on your passport renewal process. The State Department says that current passport applications are being processed in 4-6 weeks. Emily and Sarah’s renewals took about three weeks.
  • If you are able to renew by mail, do so. Trust me on this one. I’m fairly certain that the main passport office is more knowledgeable than most regional offices. I’m 100% certain they’re more knowledgeable than our regional office.
  • Make certain to have all necessary documentation, whether you are mailing your renewal or waiting at a regional office. One person in line did not have the original copy of her marriage license, just a photocopy. She was turned away. Beginning in 2011, birth certificates used for passport application/renewal identification purposes must have the full name of both parents on the certificate. No exceptions.
  • Before mailing your application or heading to your regional passport office, read through ALL the information on the State Department passport website.