Need a Passport? Apply Early, Expect to Wait

The State Department is swamped with passport applications. The backlog is driven in large part by new rules that require U.S. citizens to have a passport (and not just photo id and a birth certificate) in order to re-enter the country by plane from Canada, the Caribbean, and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Wait times for normal applications have nearly doubled, with normal processing taking 10 weeks. “Expedited” processing still takes a month.

If you have urgent travel plans and need a passport immediately, same-day passports are still available, but you need to apply in person at a passport agency, with proof that that you’ll be traveling within two weeks. Be prepared to wait in line. See here for locations.

To find a location to submit non-urgent applications, see here. MARK ASHLEY

Warning: State Department passport backlog (ellipses.elliott.org)
(Photo: bryansblog)

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  1. brunolinski says:

    My fiance and I both applied for passports in the last week of January. I actually sent my paperwork off 2 days after her, but I got my new passport last Friday.

    Things may be slower, but the system is still moving along.

  2. formergr says:

    Having experienced this personally this week– it’s more than just standing in line at the regional office in person that suuuuuucks.

    To make an appointment at the office, you have to call the crap “Automated National Appointment Line”. Well, to get through (it won’t even put you on hold 99% of the time because the number is so overloaded), you have to just pound the redial key, go through two menus, then find out you won’t be able to access the system. Hang up, rinse, repeat.

    THEN: when the magical woman’s voice comes on to walk you through making an appointment, you have hope. It confirms that you are travelling internationally within 2 weeks (because god forbid you are proactive), then asks you if you want a “first available” appointment or one on a particular day. At this point you are so f-ing thrilled to have gotten through, you pick “first available”. It asks morning or afternoon, and you make your pick. Then– silence.

    After about 5 minutes you think it’s disconnected, so you hang up and start the whole thing all over again. You realize this silence is normal. And you wait (thank god on speaker phone). You wait forty-three minutes (oh yes we timed it), and suddenly the computer voice pops out of the phone startling you and says, “There are no morning appointments in the next two weeks. Would you like to search for an afternoon appointment?”
    Yes, we would. So it’s another thirty-eight minute pause this time, only to hear, “There are no afternoon appointments in the next two weeks”. Give me an f-ing break. What kind of computer system takes forty-three minutes to process a simple calendar query?

    Well thank god we weren’t allowed to call earlier than that and get a jump on this game! [/sarcasm] Desperate Googling ensues to find a solution, and you read that the appointment system is updated every morning to reflect cancellations, so new spots to stand in line at the passport office for eight hours are opening up every day and you should call back.

    So you start the same wretched process over the every day for the next three days until you finally luck out, and marvel at how excited you are to have the opportunity to stand in line for 8 hours 3 days before your trip.

    If anyone else is suffering out there and really getting nervous, my advice is to email both your senators and your local Congressperson. Both Obama and Durbin’s offices called me back within a day after a wrote them in desperation before getting an appointment, and were prepared to help. This is what they do, it’s on every member of Congress’s web page.

  3. Canadian Impostor says:

    Good luck crossing the border,too. I got a twenty minute rapid fire grilling from the US border guard in Buffalo last week. She would ask another question the exact moment I was done answering the one before it.

    Going to Canada they asked how long I was staying and told me to have fun.

  4. tvh2k says:

    @jorach:

    I actually had the opposite experience while crossing into Canada on the Northway (I-87) in Upstate New York. Coming in I was harassed by Canadian officials for traveling with my father (of the same name) for roughly 20 minutes. Coming back, however, I spent less time getting inspected (~15 seconds) than I did waiting to get to that point (~10 minutes). Maybe the “twenty-something middle-class white guy” look wasn’t on their suspected terrorist profile for the day?

  5. pestie says:

    @jorach: I’ve never had any problems crossing the border in Buffalo, but I’ve only done it a few times. But getting into Canada is always an order of magnitude easier. They’re more concerned with whether you have any liquor than anything, as far as I can tell.

    I’m sure I’ll have some interesting stories after I actually move there, which I’m planning on doing as soon as I can sell my house.

  6. mopar_man says:

    The US sure doesn’t seem to like having foreigners in their country (whether it’s tourism or business, both putting money into the US economy). I always get hassled coming into the US but have no problems getting back into Canada. This whole business of requiring all airline passengers (and land-traveling people in the future) to have a passport sure doesn’t help to get people into the country either.

  7. dohtem says:

    Thank goodness I renewed mine before this madness. I got 10 more years! But the lady I had to deal with at the post office was incompetent. After waiting in line, she comes and tells me I can’t send my passport in, it is voided. She argues this point and as I am walking away, mulling over what she said, I stop, turn and ask her why is it voided (she actually pronounced it “voited”) and she points at the perforated passport number on the front that goes through all the pages. Fucking incredulous. The she had a problem accepting my check because it had my old address on it (I had recently moved). Long story short, she sent it in and I got my new passport weeks later.

  8. Helvetian says:

    The US has a very relaxed immigration policy, including a very easy and fast pass to US citizenship with as low as a 1 year wait. In Switzerland, foreigners must wait at least 12 years before they are even considered for citizenship and have no right of appeal.

  9. larry_y says:

    Anyone know how long the wait is for passport renewals?

  10. Tallanvor says:

    @mopar_man: The Department of “Fucking Everyone They Can In The Name Of Homeland Security” doesn’t like foreigners. But if it makes you feel any better, they don’t care much for Americans either. –I always get questioned more by US customs when I return to the country than by any of the customs officials of the countries I visit.

    Remember, it’s all about terrorism. The government is trying to terrorize everyone to make them feel like they need Republicans to protect them. Except Bush hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s starting to backfire big time now. Go figure.

  11. itmustbeken says:

    @larry_y
    My wife sent her renewal off on Monday and the person she spoke with said ’10 weeks..same as everyone else’. She said not to bother paying for the expidited service because they would just cash the check and take the 10 weeks.

    A friend went to the office and got his the same day (in San Francisco). Unlike the other horror story here, they had it together and processed him quickly. Maybe it depends on the office.

  12. BigBlueRock says:

    And, when you get the passport, you’ll discover that its all colorful and happy and looks like a D-ticket at Disneyland and that other country’s border guards regard it with suspicion and derision.

    Worse, each page has an inspiring theme and quote. The animals and Indians page says: “We send thanks to all the animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so. Excerpt from Mohawk Thanksgiving address.”

    Oh great land of liberty… why does my passport sound like an inspirational poster on Michael Scott’s wall?

  13. formergr says:

    itmustbeken, I haven’t even been to the office yet– my problem is that they don’t let you just walk in, you *have* to make an appointment to go there (will turn you away without a confirmation # from the appt system), and the awful phone computer is what sucked up all my time (and patience!).

    I’m not going to the office until next Friday– I’m prepared on a 7-8 hour wait (bringing snacks, reading material, iPod, comfy shoes) based on a recent story in the Chicago Trib, so anything less than that will just be a welcome surprise. That’s great that your friend’s processing went smoothly, it’s giving me a glimmer of hope.

  14. mopar_man says:

    @Tallanvor:

    I’ve come to realize this after paying attention to more news lately and stories like this. Maybe, MAYBE, the next president can unravel some of this mess. Ol’ George sure has made himself (and his country) a laughing stock.

  15. Helvetian says:

    Does anyone have actual images of the new ePassport? I am curious to see the data page, and Visa pages (sans private info, of course). State Dept site has only a visual schematic.

  16. mac-phisto says:

    @mopar_man: are you french-canadian? because that would explain a lot. we don’t mind canadians all that much, but if your french, you’re most likely a terrorist, commie, pinko bastard.

    also, for americans coming back to the states, here’s a trick to breeze thru customs: give the inspector a couple of those cohibas you’re trying to smuggle back in. chances are good that he won’t go looking for the 20 bottles of liquor stashed in your suitcase.

    disclaimer ok, seriously…that was just a joke. smuggle via u.s.p.s. or cross-border coyote.

  17. costanza007 says:

    My passport application process wasn’t bad, except when it came to payment. The total was supposed to be 30 dollars for the US Post Office and 67 dollars for the US State Department, so what did I do? Brought $100 cash.

    The Post Office is OK with taking cash, but they needed a check or money order for the State Department. I tried pointing out that the money itself says “legal tender for all debts public and private” and that by refusing payment of the US notes I tendered, that our debt was settled. Its not like I tried to barter chickens or gold and its the very same goverment that printed the dang money, but I wound up having to pay extra for a money order anyway.

    I did receive my passport in a timely manner, though… in about 5 weeks this past January.

  18. Buran says:

    Glad I renewed mine a few YEARS ago and got it in fairly prompt order along with my old one with a hole punched in it to void it. You’d think with increased reliance on computers over manual paperwork it’d be faster, not slower.

    When this one gets close to expiring I’ll renew it without waiting to actually need it for anything. Seems like the government always gets more incompetent, not less.

  19. nan says:

    Yikes! It’s taking that long for people to get their passport? But my question is, is it taking 10 weeks for people who’ve never had a passport before?

    Mine expired so I sent it in with my new passport app (I had to go in person to apply.. for a number of reasons) on March 6th. I elected to have the processing expedited w/ routine delivery and received my new passport yesterday morning. Not too bad.. I was expecting worse.

  20. superbad says:

    You can also use a visa and passport expediting service if you don’t want to wait in line at some smelly government agency. I’ve used traveldocs.com (no affiliation) many times for Chinese and Vietnamese visas, and they’ve always got my stuff back on time, even on really short notice. It’s not cheap, but it’s not all that expensive either if your time is valuable enough that you can’t afford to stand around for a whole day.

  21. benn09 says:

    It seems that there is a backlog on their website, as well. I have been trying for a while to find the nearest passport center in my area and I keep receiving an error message. Me not being surprised by this is the saddest part of all.

  22. mopar_man says:

    @mac-phisto:

    No I’m not. Most Canadians hate the french Canadians as well.

  23. Elvisisdead says:

    I can confirm that, as formergr states, a congressman’s office can really expedite things. This past monday, 3/19/07, we waited in line for 5 hours to apply for my 6-month-old’s passport. We had it processed and sealed in an envelope just like a visa service was going to handle it. We then Express Mailed it to a friend of ours who is a deputy chief of staff for a congressman (unnamed to protect them).

    If you mail it to the Congressional office, it will be held for AT LEAST 72 hours while it’s scanned for Anthrax, etc. Possibly longer. We mailed it to the staffer’s home address (because the are a personal friend – don’t expect a regular staffer to do this for you). It was then hand-delivered to the Congressional passport at B-229 of the Cannon House Office Building.

    We got my child’s passport in the mail today (3/23/07). Less than 5 day processing. There’s not a visa service that can deliver that for any amount of money. Use your elected official. It’s a service they offer.

  24. ZonzoMaster says:

    @Tallanvor:

    LOL to your comment. Oh here is a tip, carry a Tom Clancy book and let them see it, it worked once for me ;) (yes i have a few of those).

  25. Buran says:

    @ZonzoMaster: The top shelf of my bookshelf is sagging because my entire collection is HARDCOVER.

  26. muckpond says:

    my neighbors, a family of 2 adults and 4 kids in Indiana, recently all got expedited passports in less than 2 weeks. 1 one the child’s passports, for some reason, went through a different processing facility and came 3 days later. but really the entire process rocked for them.

    last summer i realized 3 DAYS before a flight to amsterdam that my passport had expired. i called the hotline at 11:20pm sunday night, got someone on the phone at 11:55pm, and they got me an appointment in chicago the next morning at 11. i filled out all of my paperwork ahead of time, stopped at a 24 hour kinko’s on the way there for photos, and arrived early for the appointment.

    there was a sea of people, but i was on some “special” list (maybe because my flight was on wednesday morning?) and they put me right to the front of the line — no wait. i handed them my paperwork and payment and the woman was like “ok, come back in 2 hours.”

    i visited a couple of stores, headed back, and the passport was waiting for me. i was home by 5pm — the entire process took about 18 hours from start to finish.

    i couldn’t believe it was the federal government i was dealing with. it was the most efficient interaction i’ve ever had with a “company.”

  27. Drew says:

    Important things to remember:
    1. Many unusual places can issue passports
    2. You can drive a few more miles and save HOURS
    3. It’s worth the time to research locations

    I work for a city in southern Nevada. Our City Hall has an office that issues passports. Most people can get in and out within 20 minutes compared with hours just one city (and 10 minutes) north. Call and ask what the wait is! If you have to wait on hold, you’ve already got your answer.

    Good luck folks!

  28. firestarsolo says:

    Just pray that the passport you receive has your name spelled correctly.

    I was going to Canada and needed a passport to get back into the ‘States, and when the thing finally came in the mail, my name was spelled wrong.

    Luckily we’re allowed re-entry with birth certificates, but I still have to pay for new pictures to be taken before I send in the request for the passport to be corrected.


    Is it fair for me to pay MORE money (buying more pictures) because the government screwed up?