Summer is upon us and that means travel! When I was offered the opportunity to travel to Sandals Sesame Street at Beaches Resort Negril, Jamaica for a press trip, I did not realize this trip would require a passport. However, mine was expired and my children need passports. Here a 5 things that I learned during this process that will help you when applying and renewing passports.
Fill out forms online first. This will save time on line. If you are confident that you have all of your proper documents included, don't even wait in the Passport line. You can download all of the forms and send them in on your own. All of the forms necessary are online at travel.state.gov.
Take pictures at your local Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, or Duane Reade. Check with your local Walmart and Target to see if they offer passport photos. You will only need 4 of them, don't spend more than you have to on these photos. Mine are definitely not frame worthy. I spent $9.99 for 8 of them and I only needed 1.
When renewing your passport, make sure that you include the original documents in your paper work. For example, I got married and changed my English name Jennifer to Esti. I sent in a photo copy of my marriage certificate only to find out via a letter that the original copy is required. Fortunately, this happened at least 3 weeks before my travel date. I was also able to reach a representative on the phone and ask her exactly what I had to do. She advised me to send the original copy of my marriage certificate to another address. Note: Even though you send your passport documents to an address in Philadelphia, they actually get shipped from there and sent to the U.S. Department of State in Charleston, SC. I had to send my original marriage license via Priority mail ($18.95). That was on April 20 and I still haven't received my passport. I applied for it on March 26.
If you are applying for passports for your children, 16 and under, here are a couple of things I learned. You must have both parents present when applying for the passport. Yes, that can be pretty much close to impossible on many levels. If that is not a possibility, there is a form here that can be filled out by the parent that can't make it in person. This form has to be notarized before it can be used.
The waiting game. Yes, lines are a big part of the passport process. If you don't want to wait on line, you can just mail everything in. Since it was my first time applying for passports for the kids, I wanted to get them done and in the mail with the help of a post office employee. Did I mention the line? This was very difficult. My husband was on his lunch break and my kids were not willing to just wait on line peacefully. I brought snacks, lollipops, and books. This did not help. It was more fun for them to explore different things on line. This includes making friends with a little boy who had a mother that wanted nothing to do with my kids.
Be prepared to spend a lot of money. The Department of State did not take credit cards for the application fee so be prepared to pay $80 either via check or cash. The photos that the Post Office took cost $40 per kid. Depending upon how many kids you have in tow, that can add up pretty fast. In order to renew my passport it cost $110 plus the cost of pictures, $9.99. The shipping costs were about $20 total.
Some other things I learned about in my journey is that you can pay extra to have your passport processed faster. I also learned about a place called fastportpassport.com. Since I thought I had enough time (they say 4-6 weeks) I didn't pay the rush charges. Here I am now waiting for my passport while my passports are all here. My travel date is 13 days away. I can check this online at this link or call 1-877-487-2778. Make sure you have your reference number with you to speed the process. Update: I just spoke with a representative from The Department of State in Charleston, NC. I only waited a couple of minutes, which was great. The representative was very nice and informed me that my marriage license had been received. Unfortunately, it had not made it past that. Thankfully, she help expedite the change while I was on the phone with her. I asked her if she thought it would get out by Monday. She did not have an exact answer for me. She told me to call back on Wednesday to check in on the process. If it still had not been mailed out by that point, I might need to pay an addition $75.00 in order for it to arrive before my trip. With all of these extra charges, I could have bought some new fancy luggage!!