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us passport globeOne oft-forgotten rule of international travel is that many countries won’t allow you to enter if your passport‘s expiration date is less than six months away. It certainly was a rule that I forgot about until I was reminded by a cruise line that my European voyage next month would be null and void if I didn’t have a new passport number, even though I have a few months left to go on the old one.

Which meant I was in “your passport must be expedited” territory.

I assumed my Google search of “need to renew passport” would lead me straight to the State Department’s Web site. It didn’t. Instead, I ended up in the nether regions of a for-profit site called USPassportOnline.com. Clicking along obliviously — the Web site makes it somewhat but not overly clear that it’s not the official State Department site — I registered for the renewal. I checked off the box for the $45 nonrefundable fee even as a flickering in my brain began to suggest that perhaps this wasn’t where I intended to go.

It wasn’t until I started downloading the renewal forms that it twigged: This is a for-profit service with for-profit prices. US Passport Online passes along the State Department’s $170 official fee ($110 for the passport + $60 for expedited service) but then tacks on an additional $54 for processing, the aforementioned $45 nonrefundable reservation fee and $30 for shipping. And that was for service in 8 – 12 business days; charges rise steeply if your turn-around time is shorter. My bill totaled $299.

In contrast, the State Department charges $110 for the passport, $25 for processing, a mere $12.72 for overnight shipping and $60 for expediting — a grand total of $207.72, almost $100 less.

I don’t know about you, but spending nearly $100 extra for nothing special makes me cranky. And while I could have, and should have, paid closer attention while submitting my request, US Passport Online’s Web site, with its red, white and blue color scheme, really could be mistaken for the official “passport” site.

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In a call to the company’s toll-free hotline, I expressed my dismay about the process, and the sales representative’s terse response led me to believe he fields a lot of these calls from frustrated travelers. I canceled the order. The kicker? In an e-mail confirming the cancellation, US Passport Online notes that the refund, minus the $45 cancellation fee, will take a jaw-dropping “12 – 15 business days from your cancellation date” to return to my coffers.

Was it all just a scam? Not necessarily. Using a for-profit expeditor makes good sense if you have a really challenging turn-around time (less than a week) or if you don’t live near a regional passport agency where you can apply in person. (See Passport and Visa Expeditors for more info.) But otherwise, there’s nothing easier or cheaper about using them over the State Department.

In checking out other expeditors for my not-quite-an-emergency needs, I noticed that CIBT.com at least didn’t use US Passport Online’s stars and stripes Web page design to confuse you into thinking it was part of the State Department’s passport services, but it still wasn’t terribly helpful; you have to go through the whole process of registering to find out what the fees are (or call its toll-free number and wait on hold; I hung up after 10 minutes). At G3 Visas & Passports, the pricing info is right up front and seemingly easy to access; my two-week expedite cost would have been $245, but there was no mention of special fees and, yes, you have to go through the registration process to find out what other costs there are.

Ultimately, I was most comfortable with simply going through the U.S. State Department’s passport renewal service. I made an appointment for my nearby office in Philadelphia, planned it around a lunch with an old friend and saved money in the bargain.

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— written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

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7 Responses to “In a Rush? This Passport Mistake Could Cost You”

  1. John says:

    I made a passport mistake recently. My partner had booked us a mini cruise round Europe so i had a few months to send my passport off for renewal, im very forgetful so didn’t send it off till the last month and of course a week before we were due to leave i realised i wasn’t going to receive it, so i had to drive to wales and pay £150 plus other fee’s to get it done fast. If only i had sent it off earlier. Fair to say the wife was not impressed.

  2. wftristan says:

    I nearly got caught out by this one last year – to double the nightmare i had also lost my driving licence, had to do a flying trip to wales for an emergency passport.

    not a mistake i want to make again


  3. isaacoomber says:

    That’s a great blog post topic! It will definitely help people who traveling.

  4. I had an issue where I had to expedite a visa to Brazil and the passport renewal – the Embassy would not issue it because I had slightly over six months- I had to expedite both – it was a total nightmare. I do firmly believe in using a legitimate expediting service and recommend them to my clients. Our system allows us to see our customers who have passports that expire and we reach out to them about a year prior to remind them. Make yourself a reminder to change it even if its a year out and call in your passport number to your travel agent!

  5. If my clients have passport/visa issues we use Washington Passport & Visa Service, 1-800-272-7776, 2318 18th St. NW Suite 200, Washington, DC. 20009

    Client was denied boarding in Atlanta for a flight to Cape Town because he only had 6 BLANK pages in his passport. Went to the passport office in Atlanta for additional pages and got a next day flight to Cape Town


  6. Ingrid Shapiro says:

    I truly glad I found this website. There is so much good information here.
    I used to work for the airlines, many years ago, 1967-1992. Had free travel and took full advantage of it and see and done a lot. Well, things have definetly changed since then. So I need all the help I can get. Planning a trip to Stockholm, Sweden and need all the help in all areas that I can get.

    thank you all and look forward to more conversations.

  7. Rufus J Miller says:

    You have pointed out some significant factors here. Actually, when I searched the internet, everywhere it is mentioned that we should apply for renewal nine months before the expiration date. But I was completely unaware about the fact that many countries won’t allow us to enter, when our passport expiration date is less than 6 months.

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