Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Extra Passport Pages

If you are new to reading Lap Child Diaries, the first thing you should know is that I'm a lap child (under 2 years old). The second thing is that my family and I travel ... a lot. Here's a map of where I've taken my parents since January 2013.

In one of my earlier posts, I explained how to get an infant passport so that you can start traveling outside the United States. My passport only lasts 5 years, but my parents' passports last 10 years. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of State doesn't give adults any extra pages for the additional 5 years. So while I still have a handful of empty pages in my passport left that I need to fill up in the next 3+ years, my father was starting to run low.

The Process and Timing
According to the U.S. Department of State website, if you have less than 4 empty pages left, you can get additional pages added to your current passport. After our last international trip to Germany/France, he was down to exactly 4 empty pages. With no immediate plans to travel outside the U.S., he decided to add some pages.

He had a few options. First, he could just mail in his passport and wait for regular processing. As of August 6, 2013, the official Travel.State.Gov website estimates you should allow up to 4-6 weeks before getting your passport back in the mail. Note: this timing may change based on when you apply, so check the official website, not an amateur blog.
  • If you would like (but not need) your passport back sooner, then you can pay extra and have it expedited (up to 2-3 weeks).
  • However, if you do NEED it back sooner (i.e., have near term travel plans within 2 weeks or applying for a foreign visa in the next 4 weeks), then they suggest you not mail it in. Instead, make an appointment to physically visit a Regional Passport Agency and have it done in person there.
The Application
When you apply, you need to submit the following items:

1. Your current passport
2. Form DS-4085 (seen here)
3. A check for the fees (currently $82 at the time of this post)

The DS-4085 document will have instructions telling you all the details about where to apply, so I will refer to that website instead of listing an outdated mailing address here.

Since my father's application was being sent to a P.O. Box, the UPS store said they'd have to send it via regular U.S. postal service mail, but my father made sure to (a) get a tracking number to make sure it was delivered and (b) write out a personal check to the "US Department of State" so that his bank would have a record of when it was endorsed and deposited. As much as he hates using cash/checks, in this situation, it made a lot of sense.

Our Timeline
July 15 - My father mailed out his passport with the DS-4085 form and the check for the fees.
July 18 - The US Postal Service notified him that the package was delivered.
July 19 - The check was cashed by the Department of State.

Now we waited...

Then on August 1st, my father saw that non-stop flights to Israel on United in early September were very reasonable ($1,100/person). Since I'd still be a lap child in September (but not during December), we decided to move our Christmas trip to Israel trip up a few months. Flights booked for September 3!

But now, my father would NEED his passport for our outbound flight! After looking at the calendar, 6 weeks from July 19 would be Friday August 30th, only 4 days before we were supposed to fly out on Tuesday September 3. Ruh-roh.

So my father checked online first at http://travel.state.gov/passport/status/status_2567.html. It said his passport was IN PROCESS. Not that helpful. My father did sign up online for email updates though.

Undeterred, he then searched online for a phone number to call them.

Passport Status Information Center: 1-877-487-2778
Automated Passport Information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., EST, excluding federal holidays.

The representative was extremely friendly, and said not to worry. While he couldn't specify exactly when my father would receive his passport, he said my father could call them back if it was within 2 weeks of departure (August 20th) and they'd then expedite.

However, he said he would be very shocked if it went even that long before the passport arrived.

And he was right. Yesterday (August 6), my father received an email from Travel.State.Gov:
We have finished processing your passport, and it has been mailed to you. Your passport application locator number is xxxx301. 
You requested delivery by regular mail. Passport Agencies use Priority Mail. This means you should receive your passport on or about 08/10/2013.
Check the USPS status at: http://trkcnfrm1.smi.usps.com/PTSInternetWeb/InterLabelInquiry.do?origTrackNum=xxxx71". 
It's obviously not August 10 yet, but it looks like it will take just under 4 weeks door to door. However, if you're in a comparable situation and need your passport back in time for an upcoming trip, then don't rely on my father's experience. You may be applying at a much busier time and your results may vary.

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