Well, the U.S. State Department’s Passport Services division opens up passport agency centers all over the country for an extra day that so U.S. citizens can have some extra time to acquire and renew passports without an appointment. I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the U.S. Passport Services Agency puts everything together to make sure that U.S. citizens can have the proper travel documents they need.
This particular passport agency in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood has a special place in heart because it’s where I got my first U.S. Passport! It was the year 2000, the year after I became a U.S. citizen. I knew that I could get my passport at the last minute in person (I was worried about sending my very new citizenship documents via the mail. Just being honest.). While the process ate up most of my day, I came in at 9am and had a passport by 5pm.
Don’t be like me when I got my first passport. Plan ahead, and get your passport BEFORE you need it. Passport agencies like this one are scattered throughout the U.S., but these centers should really be your last resort. They are only for people who are traveling within 14 days of the date of their appointment at the center. You can’t show up there expecting to get a passport that you don’t need immediately.
It’s much better to handle your passport issues via the mail (I had a great renewal experience via mail that only took three weeks back in 2010) or at an authorized passport acceptance facility as a first timer. Here’s a link with info on the process.
Behind the closed doors. Woo hoo!
Here are the 5 NEW things about passports that I learned on Passport Day:
1. All those annoying documents they ask for are for a reason. In order to issue a passport, Passport Services needs proof that you are a U.S. citizen as well as whether you are who you say you are. An interesting NYC point: Since many folks here don’t drive, many people don’t have basic ID such as a State ID (what I have) or the more common (everywhere else) drivers’ license. Having even the most basic form of ID can help make obtaining a passport easier.
Production room where last minute passports issued by the passport agency are actually made
2. The Smart Travel App is like having the State Department website on your phone!
I always make sure to take a look at the U.S. State Department’s dedicated travel website Trave.State.Gov. It’s a treasure trove of information. Well, now I can have this all on my smart phone!
Download it like I did (I did it while I was at the Passport Agency!). It will give you country specific travel information regarding things like visa requirements, basic country information as well as the most recent travel warnings issued by the State Department.
It’s on my phone now! I used it yesterday to settle a debate with Husband J. He won.
3. Passports for minors (persons under 16) are only valid for 5 years, whereas passports for adults are valid for 10 years. Parents, take note!
4. When is the best time to obtain or renew a passport? Avoid the times when families are most likely to travel such as right before summer vacations in June, winter breaks in February or around Christmas time. There’s usually a bump in applications for passports and renewals during those times. Think ahead, and don’t wait until the last minute to get yours, or it might take longer than expected!
A blank passport book. When I got my renewed passport in 2010, I was surprised by all of the pretty artwork. It really is nice.
5. Passport Cards vs. Passport Books – Since they started issuing them back in July 2008, 4.5 million passports cards have been issued. Should you get a card or a passport book, i.e., a traditional passport? I say get the book, BUT passport cards are great if you are a frequent traveler between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (including Bermuda) by land or sea, e.g., driving across the border or going on a cruise. If you are traveling BY PLANE to ANY destination, you need a traditional passport book. Passports books are accepted more commonly, which is why I’d suggest it overall, but it all depends on your circumstances. The passport card is a handy additional form of ID should anything ever happen to your State ID or drivers’ license. There’s also nothing stopping you from getting both!
A blank passport card
Interesting stuff, right?
I want to thank the friendly and helpful staff at the Passport Agency in NYC for taking the time to speak with me and the other bloggers who toured their offices for Passport Day.
Okay, everyone. Regardless of what country you live in, get your passport!!