When things shut down over a year ago, we were all waiting for the vaccines. Now, it’s not hard to get a vaccine but to get a US passport in the pandemic? Good luck. I have spent many hours trying to renew passports that expire this summer, and I’m here to share what I’ve learned.
The good news is that on April 25th, 2021 the European Commission, in an interview with the New York Times, confirmed that fully vaccinated US travelers will soon be able to travel to Europe. Hooray! I have no doubt that we will soon be busy again, booking amazing custom Italy vacations for our clients.
Before you contact us about Italy travel, please check your passport’s expiration date. For travel to Italy, US passports must have 6 months of validity beyond your return travel date. The advice below applies to both renewing or applying for a US passport.
Remember that emergency passport service that used to be available? It currently does not exist. I personally had not used it in the past, but I know people who had last minute emergencies and got a new passport in a day. Not currently possible.
There used to be a way to get an expedited passport in 8-10 days. Many private services used to be able to offer fast turnaround times to apply for or renew a US passport. Here’s a list. All of these places are now saying 4-6 weeks, minimum turnaround time to get a US passport during the pandemic. Some places are now saying 6-8 weeks. Yes, these are the same expedited passport services that used to be able to offer rush passports in a day or two.
The fastest turnaround time that I heard during my search was from an immigration firm in LA. They said if I could get there in person, they could promise a 3-4 week turnaround.
This option is why I am writing this blog post. Over the past week I have spent countless hours trying to get an appointment at a US passport office to renew passports that will expire this summer.
You can request an appointment IF you are traveling internationally within 14 days. They will tell you that the appointment must be booked for 72 hours, or less, prior to travel. As if that weren’t stressful enough, here’s the problem: you can request an appointment, but there are no appointments.
But here’s how you check: go to their website, click on schedule appointment. Enter your zip code, and your date of travel. A list of passport offices closest to you will appear, with a message that there are no appointments.
After talking to an agent (see below), I spent 6 hours one day earlier this week clicking “refresh” on that appointment screen to see whether any cancellations popped up. That was a waste of time.
There’s a handy toll free number you can call to talk to a real person. Dial 877 487 2778, then go through the automated system and you can speak with a passport agent within a few minutes. They will ask you whether you are traveling in the next 14 days. Then they will ask you to confirm that you have flight record locator codes. They’ll need your zip code. And finally, they will ask whether they can place you on an extended hold while they check for appointments.
Remember, though: they are checking exactly the same appointment system that you can check online. There isn’t another database with additional appointments unless you are traveling due to a life-or-death emergency (see below). Save yourself the phone call and just go check online (link above).
Now, I have to say, these agents are extremely patient. I have talked to at least 20 of them in the past week and they mostly have the same script. They ask all the questions above. Then they put you on hold while they “check”. There is no alternate calendar of appointments, and no magic way to find an appointment for you.
I’ve gotten more chatty with these agents. I’ve asked them – given there are zero appointments – whether they are staffing up again to service customers. The agent told me “not that I’m aware, ma’am.” I asked another one, out of curiosity, how often do they check for appointments and actually find one available. I got a scripted answer: “appointments are extremely limited, ma’am.”
I tried this. My documents were ready! My application was complete, including the required proof of ID, copies, and photos. I drove to San Francisco and showed up at the passport agency about 3 pm.
I patiently waited in line for a few minutes until I got to enter the building. The security guard asked me for my confirmation number. I said I didn’t have one. He asked whether I had an appointment. I said I didn’t, but I just needed to drop off my application. I told him that my application is completely ready. The final step is to hand it to someone for processing. Also, I told him my sob story, which I won’t go into here.
He said, “I’m sorry for your situation, ma’am, but I am a federal security guard. I am not employed by the passport office. My job is to only let people in who have a confirmation number and you don’t have one, so I can’t let you in.”
He was a big guy. He was wearing a bullet proof vest. I got the message and left.
If you are going to a funeral, or if you need to bring back remains, you can get an emergency passport. However, you literally need to fall into this life-or-death category. Terminally ill traveler? Not good enough. Doctor’s orders? Nope. If someone is already deceased and lives in another country, then you can go to them internationally. So really this isn’t a life-or-death emergency, it’s a death emergency.
But here’s where there are additional appointments. There’s another desk, on the east coast, that can get you an appointment within the next 72 hours if you do fall into this category.
After my extremely extensive and persistent research, my conclusion is that if there is no life-or-death situation, this is the only option.
I get it. We’re not supposed to travel. It’s a pandemic. But Italy and other countries are opening their borders, hoping to welcome US travelers. Will we be able to go? Check your passport’s expiration date and let’s hope that passport services staffs up soon.
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