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Man Bites Dog: Passport Success Stories!

K.C. Summers

Have you delayed or canceled your travel plans for this summer because you don't have a passport and thought it was hopeless to apply for one at this point? Brace yourself: The formerly beleaguered Passport Office really seems to have turned things around.

We've published plenty of items about the months-long waits travelers have endured this spring and summer when applying for passports. But in recent weeks, positive stories have been trickling in to our office from folks reporting that they've received their passports within two or three weeks after applying. You heard that right.

Just yesterday we got two calls from applicants who said they were astonished at the quick results and the quality of the help they received. One guy, who was all set to leave for London this weekend for a three-week trip, just happened to check his well-worn passport and discovered -- d'oh! -- that it was going to expire mid-trip. He braced himself for a big runaround, but called State's toll-free number and within minutes had an appointment at the 19th Street office and a guarantee that he'd have his new passport within four hours.

Another guy said he sent his application in two weeks ago, months ahead of his planned October trip to Europe. Now, two weeks to the day later, his new passport was just delivered to his door. He hadn't paid for any special treatment, and said he could only imagine how fast he would have received the thing if he'd paid the expediting fee.

Any other success stories out there? Or are these stories just flukes?

By K.C. Summers |  August 1, 2007; 9:30 AM ET  | Category:  K.C. Summers , Passports
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We sent in applications for my sons on April 7th. First one came back after 15-1/2 weeks; we're still waiting for the second one. Our trip was in July, but luckily we could use their birth certificates (of course, we had to pay for new copies from the state because we had to send in the originals with the passport applications!).

Posted by: fxlibrarian | August 1, 2007 10:45 AM

Must be flukes. My daughter has been waiting two months for her passport. She is scheduled to leave for Britain for a junior year abroad program on Sept. 25 and will need a student visa, which will take a minimum of two weeks to obtain. I don't want to cut it that close, though. She dropped off her application at our local
Post Office on June 1 and instead of following her father's advice to expedite it, she followed the Postal clerk's advice: "Oh, no problem, don't bother to expediite it, there's plenty of time."

Posted by: WestCoast1 | August 1, 2007 12:21 PM

Received mine yesterday. It took 6 weeks rather than the 12 weeks I was expecting. :)

Posted by: Arlington | August 1, 2007 12:34 PM

we applied for new passports for our two daughters and renewals for ourselves on April 23rd (for an October trip to England). All four arrived last week--three months later. Not quite the great story you mention, but they got here right at the estimated 12 weeks, so I'm not complaining one bit!

Posted by: FFX | August 1, 2007 12:49 PM

For the daughter getting a UK student visa, I received mine back, in hand 1 week to the day after I mailed it (NY consulate) in July.

Just wanted to let you know.

Posted by: student visa | August 1, 2007 12:52 PM

We applied for new passports for four of our children on April 13, at the post office. My husband and I mailed ours in to be renewed, return receipt indicates they were received April 20. We were told to expect the passposts in 6 to 8 weeks, later revised to 8 to 10 weeks. Our trip was scheduled to start July 9. By July 2, more than 11 weeks after we had applied, I had been trying to get an appointment at the passport office for several days but the automated process said no appointments were available. One of the contract workers answering the toll-free number told me that if I got through to a "task force member," who were randomly answering the line, they would be able to give me an appointment. I called repeated for three straight days before getting through to a member of the task force who e-mailed me an appointment confirmation, so I pulled my kids out of camp and my husband & I went down to the office, waved the e-mail around, and waited for hours. We were told ours kids' applications were "in the building" and would be completed within three days. The renewal applications for my husband & I were in New Hampshire -- the computer showed there had been no action on those files since May 21, and the clerk doubted they would be ready in time for our trip, so she told us to reapply. When I asked what would happen to the pending renewal applications, I was told they would be "abandoned." We had trouble reapplying because, of course, our most recent passports were with the agency! We ran next door for new photos, however, and I used my old-old passport, with an elementray school-age photo, as the basis for my renewal request -- my husband used his birth certificate. On Friday, July 6, the last business day before our departure, I spent five hours at the passports office (incredibly, the kids' applications had not been started until I arrived) and ultimately I secured all six passports. The next morning, Saturday, July 7, Fed Ex delivered the original renewal passposts for my husband & I. I left them home and we traveled without incident on the pair that were made for us in DC. Now I need to dispose of the "extra" set. They have different numbers, so I'm sure the mistake must be evident to the State Department. I have been calling the toll-free number to find out what I should do, but have not gotten through. I am afraid I am breaking the law just by having the passports, and I want to get rid of them legally and quickly.

Posted by: Washington DC | August 1, 2007 1:05 PM

I had my renewed passport in my hands eight (8!) days from when I sent it out by Express Mail on June 31. I paid the expedite fee and enclosed the itinerary/invoice for my August 8 trip.

Posted by: Karen | August 1, 2007 1:26 PM

I'm no expert on this, but I think I have read that journalists sometimes have multiple passports so that they can visit countries (i.e in the Middle East) that tend to be suspicious if they see passport stamps from rival nations. All that is to say, it's probably not illegal, but wouldn't hurt to check. I'm sure there's no reason to panic.

Posted by: Duplicate passports | August 1, 2007 1:37 PM

To student visa:
That's great news to hear, but I'm wondering if you may be the exception. I am going to the UK for three years on September 23, and will need a student visa, but due to financial hang-ups I won't be able to apply until mid- to late-August. Does anyone else have any experience in applying for student visas to the UK (or anywhere?) and about how long they take to come through?

Posted by: Charlietown | August 1, 2007 1:51 PM

My husband, son and I applied for our passports on the Friday before Christmas; we had planned a cruise for Spring break. There was not a soul in line at the Franconia post office and we received our passports in about 2 weeks. We didn't pay anything extra. What a nice surprise!

Posted by: Moira | August 1, 2007 1:52 PM

I applied for a passport on April 10th, the day I was naturalized. I am still waiting, 16 weeks later.
Just a data point.

Posted by: Stefano | August 1, 2007 1:55 PM

I applied for my passport renewal at the post office on 7/20. I had no immediate travel plans scheduled, but there is a chance of international business travel in September, so I opted for the expedited service. I received my passport on 7/30 via express mail. I was SHOCKED, not to mention very pleased! It sounds like they've gotten their act together over there.
When telling your experiences with passports, I think it's important to clarify if you were/are seeking a renewal or a new passport. From what I understand, the renewal process is much less cumbersome.

Posted by: Arlington | August 1, 2007 1:58 PM

Unless things have changed, they can process your visa when you land in the UK. For free. No need to pay money or ship off your passport. This only works for study abroad students, however, since you'll need to be there for less than 1 calendar year - they won't process anything longer term at the airport. You'll need all the docs with you that you would send to the embassy anyway, but no waiting, no charge, and your passport is never out of your hand.

Things may have changed since then, however - I flew out two weeks after 11 September 2001. The LSE told all incoming students to just get the visa when they arrived in the UK rather than to get it in advance. When I was looking at going back in 2003, same regs still applied. But again, that was four years ago, regs change.

Posted by: MB | August 1, 2007 2:09 PM

rules for UK student visas have changed. As of Jan 1 2005, you must hold a valid student visa before you enter the UK for courses over 6 months, and as of Sept 1, 2007 this is even if your course is for less then 6 months.

BritainUSA.com is where to go if anyone needs the info.

Posted by: student visa | August 1, 2007 2:24 PM

I asked about expediting fees a few chats ago...my husband needed to apply for his first passport for a trip in December. We paid the expediting fees for peace of mind. We received his passport earlier this week. Probably didn't need to expedite, but now we can go on a spontaneous trip before December!

Posted by: RF | August 1, 2007 2:36 PM

We are traveling to the UK and Italy in mid-August and thought we had given ourselves more than enough lead time to renew our eldest son's passport. We sent off an expedited request (advertised as two to three weeks) at the end of May and still don't have anything back. We got no help from the "help line" phone bank folks, and the automated "appointment line" for last-minute renewals is nearly always busy. We finally called our congressman to complain about State's truly dreadful service, and found out that he has hired a staffer to work passport problems. We now hear that we're getting the passport tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Posted by: lc_smash | August 1, 2007 2:37 PM

On February 22nd, I scheduled a trip to Spain to start on March 23rd. I hadn't heard about the passport bog, but when I took my (barely) expired passport to the post office to send it for renewal, they warned me that I might not get it back in time, because of the backlog. I did pay the expedite fee, and I had the new passport back in 10 days. Maybe I skated in under the wire...

Posted by: julie - portland, OR | August 1, 2007 2:40 PM

My wife's renewal took 18 days from the day she sent in her paper work..

Heck, she got her passport quicker then I did last year when I paid the extra fees...

Posted by: migali | August 1, 2007 2:41 PM

Thanks everyone for the information on student visas.

For those of you who are waiting on new or renewal passports but are having no luck on the hotline, have you tried calling your congresspersons office? My father works in the immigration office for our representitive, and part of his job is helping constituents who are having passport difficulties like the ones discussed here. Many times he is able to call the passport centers and get the applications moved along for people who are leaving the country shortly.

Good luck to all of you and happy travels!

Posted by: Charlietown | August 1, 2007 2:47 PM

Applied for mine about a month and a half ago and paid for the "expedited" service. Got it back in less than 2 weeks, which was great.

Humorously, last week the State Department sent me a nice note to let me know that they had recieved my application and that I could check on the status of it on their web-site. Yes, this was a good month after I had recieved my passport.

Posted by: NYC-er | August 1, 2007 3:47 PM

We're headed out in 14 days, and applied for our passports three months ago. We're still waiting for their arrival, and hope we're able to attend the family wedding in Europe. I called today, only had a 10 minute wait, and learned that the best the operator could do was send a note to the Charleston passport center (where mine is currently residing) regarding our dates and where we are headed. I didn't sleep a wink last night...

Posted by: Leaving in 14 days | August 1, 2007 5:11 PM

I'm one of those many State employees who have been temporarily re-assigned to passport duty. I think the turnaround times at this point depend on which passport office received the applications. Judging by the application dates I'm currently adjudicating, the backlog in Washington has to be pretty much cleared. Other offices are still slogging through though.

I can tell you this much: we're working really hard at it.

Posted by: Julia | August 1, 2007 5:16 PM

It must be that applications submitted recently are being processed quickly. The backlog did slow down my passport renewal. I sent mine in the first week of May and according to the State Department website, my new passport was just mailed out today. My trip isn't until October though, so I wasn't in a rush.

Posted by: Tucson, AZ | August 1, 2007 5:27 PM

Those must be flukes. I was married and sent my passport in to get the name changed the first week in April. I'm still waiting for it to come back in time for my honeymoon trip next month. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it shows up in time!

Posted by: Chlpink | August 2, 2007 9:14 AM

I sent my app on June 5th and the mailed it to me yesterday. There seems to be no rhyme or reason with the process.

Posted by: alan | August 3, 2007 1:32 PM

Like Stefano above, I applied on April 10, and 16 weeks later I am still waiting. Stefano called it "just a data point". Mine is the second data point.

Posted by: Pat | August 7, 2007 1:03 PM

I think its a fluke. I sent a passport renewal application in April and had not received a response after 13 weeks. I called 2 weeks ago and just received my passport Monday - total time 16 weeks.

Posted by: even renewals are taking a long time | August 8, 2007 1:06 PM

My husband sent his passport in in March and got it two days before our honeymoon (late July) 4 months later. And this passport was a reissue - his original was still stuck somewhere in Little Rock, Arkansas, and only with the help of our congressman did we get one in time!

Posted by: Jennifer | August 8, 2007 4:23 PM

I applied in June and received my renewal passport in less than two weeks without paying extra to expedite it. I filled out the pdf form online, printed it and made sure I followed all instructions exactly before mailing it - but I'm sure others did the same and are still waiting! I also listed my overseas travel plans (Sept). Since I live in Michigan - only a couple of hours from the Canadian border, I go there often and travel through Canada when driving to New York state.

Posted by: Nancy | August 8, 2007 5:28 PM

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