Lessons Learned: Passport Renewal

Also known as why I’m very disgruntled with the State Department.

Remember that time when I shared how excited I was to have more pages added to my passport? Well, lesson learned: never share your enthusiasm for something until it’s already happened.

No sooner had I hit “publish” then I received a letter from the State Department informing me that my passport had expired and would be held by the State Department until I 1) completed and submitted a new application that 2) included an additional fee of $28.00. And PS: don’t forget to include the authorized passport photos.

When I pulled the letter out of my mailbox I actually believed that my passport was inside. I mean, the envelope was thick enough. I can’t articulate how stunned I was to see my beloved blue book was not there. I had mailed my passport a full two months ahead of time, and I know they received it. How?

Because my check was cashed five days after mailing my paperwork in, and well within the window of time that my passport was still valid. In any business I’ve ever dealt with, if you accept payment but don’t do the work you’re paid for, that’s fraud. Adding insult to injury was the horror of my passport being held hostage by the State Department! All I could muster was a very loud and angry “WHAT THE F—.”

I was so mad, I stuffed the letter aside to deal with later. Note to self: stuffing something aside absolutely changes the outcome (not one bit). When these unexpected and un-welcomed issues pop up, address them right away, or they may come back to bite you, and derail your adventure before it starts.

While booking my trip to Tanzania, I realized I couldn’t ignore the situation any longer. I was risking my trip by deluding myself that the State Department would magically correct its mistake and mysteriously resolve the situation. I had to face the very sad fact that they would not send my old passport book with new pages.

Armed with a new sense of determination, I called the Passport Processing Center to confirm next steps and address some of the very fine print at the bottom of my letter… “if we do not receive the requested information within ninety (90) days…” I was on day 88. According to “Paula,” all was good and I had nothing to worry about. No, they would not reject my application, even if it arrived on day 91. Paula told me I should just send the application, photo and check for $28.00, not the entire amount stated on the website.

You know, by now, that’s not how it ended. Paula was an idiot, and I was too for believing her. Three days later, I received another notification that my 90 days had, in fact, expired. I now had to send a new application, new photo and complete application (again $110 + $25 +$60.00 expedited fee) for a new passport. To say I was infuriated is an understatement. This exactly what I wanted to avoid, and why I grilled Paula for 20 minutes when I called the processing center.

As you can guess based on the name of my little blog, my passport is a special thing, and each stamp in it represents a slew of stories—fond memories, new friends and personal experiences. Now despondent at having an empty passport, I was nonetheless hell-bent on getting this done. I again called the processing center. My second call was significantly more productive thanks to “Richard” and five days later my wallet was lighter but new passport arrived. Whew.

So what’s the big lesson here for readers? The State Department’s passport processing center is abysmal. What branch of government is not equipped to processing fees with a credit card or debit card? It’s the 21st Century and this is unacceptable. But we can’t change that, so my takeaway for the reader is as follows.

While I planned for a six-week turn around time when I initially submitted my request, that’s clearly not enough time when you factor in the unforeseen screw-ups that may happen. If you want to take the State Department up on its offer to add pages, you need to do it at least 3 months, and if it’s really important to you, then consider paying the expedited processing fee. If you are a frequent traveler that’s going to strike you as absurd. Certainly it is as absurd as the fact that the State Department only accepts personal checks and not credit/debt cards. But, it is what it is.

Another lesson: the State Department is just like every other government branch. The answer you get depends upon whom you speak with, so always take notes, get names, dates and times. And know that in the end, if you don’t get what you want then you’ll just have to lump it. And vent about it in a blog.

Okay, I’m wrapping up this rant. The most important thing, ultimately, is that my new, blank passport is now back in my hands and I feel complete again. Now I can only wonder what adventures await me as I set off to get my Visa for Tanzania.


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