It happened again last week – the frantic phone call from the airport, as a client realizes that his passport is expired.
Take a deep breath. Yes, it’s bad, but like most things, there are solutions.
The best solution is, of course, prevention. When you buy your ticket, take a few minutes to find and check your passport. Can you actually find it? Is it still valid? Is there anything funky about it that will cause immigration officials to freak out? (I once washed mine by accident, so the photo was no longer glued down. Immigration officials seem to hate that).
If you are standing in line to check in, and realize it’s expired:
DO NOT GET OUT OF LINE. The first thing you need to do is talk to the airline to reschedule your flight. Do NOT no-show for your flight – you will lose your ticket completely, and be in even worse shape. Stay in line. When you get up to the check-in counter, explain your problem. Throw yourself on the airline’s mercy. Obviously you are going to have to delay your flight a few days, while you get your passport replaced. Officially, if you change your outbound flight, you are canceling your trip completely, and buying a whole new ticket – but this time, with only a day or two’s advance purchase. Beg for mercy. Sometimes airlines will let you rebook at the same fare level, and only make you pay the change fee.
If it’s the day before your flight, and you realize it’s lost/expired:
Call Exito. We are happy to assist our clients by contacting the airlines, exploring options for new travel dates, and begging for mercy on fees.
Getting your passport reissued/replaced:
Next, think about how you are going to get your passport reissued. Are you in a city that has a US State Department passport agency (there is a list at the end of this blog entry)? If so, immediately call the central automated appointment line to make an appointment. (1-877-487-2778). Then go home and get all your paperwork in order, so that this will take as little time as possible.
If your town does not have an official US passport agency (a division of the US State Department, which actually issues passports), you have two options.
One is to hire a passport expediting service to take care of this for you. That will take several days and several hundred dollars. Still, it may be the easiest solution to your problem. There are many reputable companies who offer this service, check on line for information.
The other option is to fly to a city that does have a passport agency, and get it renewed there. Many tickets to Latin America go via cities that have US Passport agencies (New York, Miami, Houston, Atlanta). See if the airline will allow you to add a stopover to your ticket. Then see if you can get an appointment at that passport agency. This will mean taxi fares, hotel rooms, and restaurant food, so it will also cost you several hundred dollars, but it might get you on your way faster.
If you are departing within the next 2 weeks:
If you are leaving within the next 2 weeks, you can get an appointment at one of the regional passport offices to replace or renew it in person. There is a list of regional offices at the end of this blog entry. Call the central automated appointment line to make an appointment. (1-877-487-2778). You will need to enter your travel date. If it is not within 2 weeks, you will not be allowed to make an appointment.
If you have lots of time, US citizens can apply for new or renewed passports via a local passport acceptance facility. Generally, these are post offices, where at least one employee is trained in passport processing. Often they will also do your passport photos. This is the cheapest way to get or renew your passport, but you need to allow plenty of time. Apply as early as possible, but I would recommend at least 6 weeks in advance of your travel date, 8 weeks for summer travel.
What to do, if you are leaving in less than 8 weeks but more than 2? You can pay extra for an expedited passport, that is sent out to you by overnight mail. These generally take 2-3 weeks to process.
The US Passport agency website has applications, and a very complete list of what documentation you need:
Once you have applied, you can track the status of your application on-line at:
There are regional offices in the following cities: