Since the beginning of the year, the United States Passport office has been getting hammered with requests for new an renewed passports. This is what happens when you change the rules to require a passport to go to Mexico and Canada by air. What used to be a 6 week turn around for passports is now supposedly a 10 week turn around. That means that you should have your passport in your hands by the time that 10 weeks is up. Don't you believe it!
Colette and I turned in our applications on March 8. For those of you keeping track, that was more than 10 weeks ago. To their credit, the State Department has created a web site that allows you to track the status of your application. For the last 7 weeks, it has said that it 'currently being processed'. In the end, after many calls into the NPIC, we had to go down the the passport office in Washington, DC last friday to get our passports. Once there, we waited in lines like at the MVA, but were able to walk away with a passport for Colette after 4 hours or so. My passport had actually finished the night before and was being FedExed to me. It arrived Saturday morning while I was coaching my son's U6 Soccer team.
Here are some things I learned while going through the process:
- Although they say you should have your passport back in 10 weeks, don't believe them. If you are planning on taking a trip out of the country in the next year, apply for your passport now.
- As of right now, you only need a passport for Mexico and Canada if you fly there. If you plan on making a run for the border in your GTI, you only need your driver's license.
- If for some reason, you passport hasn't arrived and you are leaving within the next 3 weeks, start calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) every day. The numbers to hit to get through to a live person are 1-3-1. If after a couple of seconds, the system tells you that all representatives are busy, hit 9-3-1 to get back into the line. Repeat the 9-3-1 until you hear ring tones or classical music.
- There are 2 sets of people that answer the phones, the ones at the call centers and the ones at the task force. If your passport hasn't arrived within 3 business days of your departure, the task force personnel are the only people who can make you an emergency appointment at a regional passport office. You can tell which queue you are in by what you hear when you are waiting for someone to pick up. If you hear classical music, it's a call center. If you hear ring tones followed by a message that you need to hold on for the next available person, it's the call center. It's a complete crap shoot as to which queue you get in when calling the main number.
All in all, this process is much more time consuming and difficult than it needs to be. There has to be some way to speed things up, especially for passport renewals.