A few posts back, I wrote about applying for my passport renewal in person rather than trusting it to the hands of our U.S. Postal system and far-off government workers. Although I had hoped to kick the process off about 10 days ago, I had to postpone my appointment because I had double booked myself that day and to choose a doctor's appointment over my passport appointment (though decision). I made it to my appointment at the passport agency, but quickly realized the wait was going to be longer than I had planned so I had to leave before finishing the process.
Well today, I finished up part 2: turning in my paperwork and (gasp) handing over my passport. My pink leather passport holder is now empty and I’m a little anxious to get my new one in hopefully a matter of days. For those of you who are applying for a new/renewal passport in person and are not sure what to expect, please read on.
Arriving at the regional passport office (in my case, Los Angeles) I was met outside of the building by an officer who made sure I had a legitimate appointment (have your reservation number at the ready). That was line #1. Then on to Line #2 just outside the main door to enter the building and go through the metal detector. You wait in that line until you are individually escorted inside. I snagged the first morning appointment at 8:00 AM so I wouldn't have a full day of stragglers backed up for me later in the day.
Once through the Xray machine, I found my way to the passport processing room - if you've ever been to the DMV, you'll notice they use the same interior designer. But before I can enter this room I have to speak to another officer to confirm I have an appointment (in case I managed to lie and get past the first two officers) and who informed me that I am not allowed to make or take any phone calls while inside the processing room.
Then on to Line #3 which took about 30 minutes to get through. In this line, you wait to approach a window, show the documents, passport photos and confirm that you are willing to pay the fees for passport renewal and expediting fees. Basically, this is just to check that you've done your homework, but they don't actually grade it. Instead I'm given a white ticket with a number on it and I'm told to have a seat in the waiting area and wait for my number to be called. This ticket also gives you false hope as it has a estimated wait time on it. Unfortunately, that wait time in completely arbitrary and has little to do with how long you'll actually wait. My ticket said my wait time was approximately 24 minutes. Instead I waited for over an hour.
After answering both personal and work emails, people watching and chatting with a friend who also happened to be there renewing his passport, the powers that be finally called my number. From here on out, the process was fairly easy. The woman at the window quickly looked over my paperwork, marked a few things on my form with her red pen, charged me $170 ($110 processing fee + $60 to expedite the process). Why the first man who "checked my homework" couldn't have actually completed the process I'll never know.
I'll also never know why the wait time increased from 24 minutes to well over an hour. In my most polite voice, I asked the woman why the wait was so much longer than estimated. Not shockingly, she did not have any idea either. Instead she just gave me a sheet of paper with Wednesday's date on it which is when I can return to pick up my new passport and (hopefully) my old, expired passport. The woman behind the window said that the pick up process is much shorter than the drop off process and that I won't have the same long wait. I can only hope she's right. Still, having to reschedule after the first attempt and all the time waiting, I still feel this is better than mailing off my passport and being without it for up to 6 weeks.
Before I wrap up and begin crossing my fingers that I'll have a new passport in hand in a matter of days, I'll share 3 pieces of advice for getting through the passport renewal process:
1. Bring lots fo reading materials or make sure you have your smart phone totally juiced up so you have something to do during the wait.
2. If you know you'll be traveling frequently, ask for additional pages to be added to your passport right way. It saves you another trip to the passport office a few years from now when my passport gets filled up. Plus there was no additional charge for this service when done at the same time as your renewal.
3. The rules say that you need to show proof of travel plans within the next two weeks in order to justify the need to get your passport processed in person, but when I explained that I didn't have an itinerary because my printer was broken (true story) they never asked to see the electronic copy I offered to show from my email. I'm not sure that all of the agents will be that lenient with the rules, but if you don't have an itinerary set up, you may still be able to complete the process.
Any other questions on the passport renewal process? Please leave me a question in the comments or on the There's So Much to See Facebook Page.