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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Passport Renewal Time

My passport expires this month. As you might imagine, based on the name of my little blog, my passport’s a special thing.

I can remember when I first got this passport. And I remember thinking what a long time away August 2014 seemed to be, and suddenly it’s here.

Generally, I am on top of these things and would already have a new one. Except it struck me, I’d be facing blank pages. It would no longer be my old friend, filled with my favorite memories.

The pure horror of getting my passport renewed; the crisp, untraveled and inkless paper, no stamps to document my adventures? What the hell was that about? I was crushed. But that was so 2004. The only thing constant is change. And so it goes.

Apparently, though, at some point in the past ten years U.S. citizens could add 24-pages to existing passports. This was, assuming a passport hadn’t already expired. I wondered, was this just a cruel urban myth?

Not that my passport is full. Compared to some friends it’s relatively empty, (although, it sure would help if customs agents would put the stamps where I asked them to, not wherever they flipped it open to, because nothing drives me crazy like a stamp that is placed in front of older trips).

Still, the one thing I decided was that I wasn’t going to surrender my hard-earned stamps. Call me a nerd, but I get such joy flipping through my passport looking at the stamps and remember something different from each trip. I lost my old passport, and stamps to France, Switzerland, Scotland, Germany and a half-dozen other wonderful spots. And I never quite got over it.

Enough tripping down memory lane. Back to the actual passport renewal … I was fascinated by the possibility of someone adding to my existing passport by sewing more pages into it. If it was real, I wanted to confirm it, and blog about the process. And, I was able to confirm online that it was, in fact, possible.

But there were a few necessary steps to initiate the process. I started by calling the passport office in January to make arrangements. I got a response directing me to the state department’s legal office. I never got a return call or email. Disappointing, but unfortunately, predictable.

Since I live in the District of Colombia, I am in walking distance to the passport office to have my photo taken and get the proper form. The information is online but sometimes confirming these details with an actual human is important when dealing with government agencies. It’s kind of like that old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, cut once.” Especially important when you have to temporarily surrender your passport.

I got all my forms filled out, made copies of my passport, and proceeded to the passport office. I was ready to rock.

Except that I didn’t bring my checkbook with me. Doesn’t it just figure that credit cards aren’t accepted? Our Government will only take a check, or money order to renew a passport. Measure three times, when it’s the government.

Anyway, my little blue book is off getting a “facelift” of sorts. I feel almost naked without it, and look forward to its return.

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