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What to do when you lose your passport before a trip

Posted by on December 16, 2008

Eight days before we were scheduled to fly to Europe, I realized my passport was missing.

Three days before we fly out, I have a new passport in hand.

How did this miracle occur? For those in a similar position, or for the merely curious, I’m posting my experience.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU

-LOSE YOUR PASSPORT

-ARE LEAVING THE COUNTRY IN 14 DAYS OR LESS

AND

-LIVE IN THE BAY AREA.

Should I use a rush provider?

There are dozens of services on the web that promise to get you a passport before your departure date. (RushMyPassport.com, PriorityPassports.com, etc.) I do not advise using these services. I do know people who have used them successfully, but there are also plenty of warning stories online about people who paid their money and still didn’t get their passports in time. In addition, it will cost you around $300 on top of the $160 fee you pay to get a new passport in a hurry.

Should I go through the State Department’s Passport Agency?

Yes!

If you’ve done your homework, you’ve found the official State Department page about losing your passport, which introduces you to the Passport Agency. I was dubious about this service at first. I used the automated phone system to make an appointment, and the first available one was on the morning of the day we were leaving. (We fly out in the late afternoon.) My concerns were:

– I wouldn’t be a priority.

Not true. At this office, they look at a copy of your itinerary and prioritize the passports accordingly. If you’re leaving in a few hours, you go to the top of the stack.

– No government agency can turn something around in less than 24 hours.

Not true. There are countless reviews on Yelp from desperate people who received same-day passports. This agency exists to serve those people and it does a good job.

My experience was a little different. I went down to the agency on Monday morning, even though my appointment wasn’t until Thursday, on the off-chance they’d process me early. I told the guard at the door that I was a few days early for my appointment (I think often you need to show your appointment confirmation number), but it wasn’t too busy and he cheerfully let me through.

(Note: I do not believe this is the standard procedure. When I returned to pick up my passport, the new guard was being much pickier about only allowing in people who had appointments. I think it’s worth going before your appointment just in case they’ll let you in, but you definitely should make an appointment as well.)

Once you’re inside, you present the following documents:

– Proof of US citizenship such as birth certificate or old passport.

– Forms DS-11 and DS-64, filled out. (Find them here.)

– Two passport photos (this is a specific kind of photo; you can get them at most Kinkos or UPS stores).

– Credit card, check or money order for $160.

– Driver’s license.

– Your airline tickets or the e-ticket itinerary the airline emailed you.

You’re given a number and you sit down and wait. Bring a book and headphones if you have them. There were about 30 people in front of me, but it goes pretty fast. Still, schedule plenty of time to wait.

When your number is called, you go to the window and present your documents, and a very nice employee chats with you while she finishes your paperwork. You’re then told when you can pick up your passport — for me it was the following morning, because I’m not a same-day priority.

So did you get a passport or not?

Yup. I’m looking at it right now and it’s glorious. Europe, here I come!

One added thing…

My final note about the awesomeness of the passport office is this: it’s about a seven minute walk from the Montgomery station, so if you go on a really cold day like today then you can wear your brand new parka, which is just as cozy as you hoped it would be. Friends, I leave you with my head and a smug, passport-carrying smile.

Parka_Small.jpg

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