You don’t need to be in the travel business to know that the pandemic pause in travel created a slog of backlog for passport processing. Many let their passports expire at the time, not knowing when they’d be able to fly internationally again. When travel came back, others let theirs lapse, thinking they’d wait for the rush to be over before renewing theirs. As of March 2023, routine processing took up to 13 weeks, a number that has improved to 8 – 11 weeks as of October, marking a first since February.
Meanwhile, it’s expected that you have a passport in hand half a year before your trip that’s also valid for beyond six months from your trip. This is something inexperienced or out of practice vacationers might not be aware of, making last-minute holdouts even more likely to turn into last-minute cancellations if timing isn’t fine-tuned.
With all of that in mind, it takes being able to Ask a Pro to suss it all out, especially when the clock is ticking. We spoke to travel expert David Alwadish, the CEO of ItsEasy.com Passport & Visa Services to find out his best advice for getting that very important document squared away so you can get on your way.
This Includes passport photos, too.
“Not all passport photos are accepted,” Alwadish warns. “Per the Department of State, the number one reason passport applications are suspended or put on hold is non-compliant photos,” making this one area you definitely don’t want to mess with.
“Just because a store, pharmacy, or facility sells passport photos does not mean their quality meets the government’s standards,” he says. A background and a camera aren’t the only requirements for a passport photo, and the reality is, the training is nominal for the employees that are taking it. They may not know, for example, that wearing eyeglasses is a no-no, even if you’re never seen without them.
And beware of trying to take one yourself, lest you be tempted to doctor up a more flattering one. Per Alwadish, “using a social media filter or posing in front of a colored background will render the passport photo unusable,” which again will lead to having to go through the whole nerve-wracking submission process all over again.
Use an app as a safeguard against human error and streamline manual steps.
As we mentioned, Alwadish is the CEO of ItsEasy.com Passport & Visa Services. What this is, is an app (available in the Apple App Store or on Google Play) that offers an “easy, affordable, convenient way to safely and securely renew your U.S. passport without leaving home … [that’s] all-inclusive, just like your favorite Caribbean resort!” he jokes.
Essentially, ItsEasy provides the safety net travelers need to make sure everything on the application is right so that it breezes through the government’s process. This means running it past their passport and visa experts; complimentary perfect passport photos that are taken through the app and digitally uploaded to the form; and online forms you can fill out clearly and legibly via computer typing – reducing margin of error – that are delivered instantly via email for printing with a special government barcode added to the document, which allows the U.S. passport agency to bypass manual input and scan your info in, speeding up your addition to the database.
Added bonuses for using this app, Alwadish shares, is that they offer “round-trip standard trackable shipping labels for the application and the passport book, which ItsEasy.com submits on the customer’s behalf and daily status processing updates” so that you don’t have to spend weeks worrying if your application even made it to the agency. Plus, their service includes complimentary passport renewal reminders for future renewals, help with lost passports, a visa widget, and 365/24/7 live assistance for any questions, he tells us.
However, shop smart if you’re going to use passport renewal assistance.
As we all know, you can’t believe everything you see or read on the Internet, and unfortunately, that applies to sensitive information like your passports, too. To avoid being scammed or swindled, Alwadish says to stay wary of your search engine and ad results.
“Some of our passport courier competitors are publicly gouging and misleading their clients with excessive and inappropriate fees, charging upwards of up to $300 in service fees for the government's [standard] 7 – 9 week or 10 – 12 week renewal programs for services that are free or already charged by the government, and for fewer services than what we provide.” For example, in full transparency, he shares that ItsEasy charges $39.95 or $42.95 inclusive of photos and shipping.
To him, anyone that tacks on hundreds in fees, often without even including the passport photos, are just “bringing greed and fraud into the marketplace,” so shop around with extreme caution and keep an eye out for added fees that rack up quickly.
Utilize rush services if you need to expedite your passport.
The only time those hundreds of dollars make sense is if you’re using rush services to obtain your passport within 14 business days, though, Alwadish explains. This service can start at $349, and as he shares, allows someone else to “act as an agent on a traveler’s behalf, both in the collection and review of documentation, and in the interfacing with the State Department through a series of limited pre-arranged appointments called slots … which were initially designed and allocated for people such as the handicapped, the elderly, those who live in jurisdictions not serviced by a state-run passport agency, or those who can’t get to the passport agency for a certain reason.”
After those applications are processed, organizations like ItsEasy.com are permitted to submit a certain number of passport applications in person for a 3 – 10-day processing timeframe, and picks them up on behalf of the applicant in person, too, “unless the individual agency overnights the passport book or card directly to the applicant,” he says.
Just pay for the quicker shipping if you’re already expediting.
However, if you have a couple more days than that and don’t need as much hands-on advocacy, Alwadish advises to simply pay the $60 add-on for basic expedited passport renewal through the government agency and the $19.53 for the 1 – 2-day return shipping. “Included with every passport renewal, regardless of speed, is an up to five-day trackable return shipment,” he reveals, which can help your frazzled nerves as you check the mailbox every day!
But if you’re down to the wire, you have a couple of last-ditch options.
“If you live in a city that has a US Passport Agency office, you can contact the government's automated appointment hotline at 1-877-487-2778,” Alwadish says. “Note that you must be departing the country within 14 days to qualify for this option; the only difference between the requirements for a rush passport and a regular passport application is a travel itinerary that shows that your travel plans require an expedited passport.”
At his report, the fee for renewing the passport is $130 + $60 ($190) per adult and $100 + $60 for a total of $160 for each child under 16. A passport card adds another $30 for adults and $15 for children.
You can’t just show up, though. “For urgent or emergency passport needs, try to reserve an appointment at passport agencies in states near you since they’re limited and hard to get!,” he says, and urges desperate travelers to avoid limiting their appointment search to their state or region only.
“Some people might find available same-day appointments in offices outside their state. Once you secure an appointment, you show up in person with the required documents and fees. In-person agency appointments usually result in same day or next day issuance depending upon travel plans.”
As we continue to push consumers to Plan with a Pro, we know you count on pros like Alwadish for insider tips and best advice, which is why we continue our forward momentum with TravelBlogue’s Ask a Pro series. Look for that headline for more features from other exceptional pros, offering insights from small business building, health, nutrition, and beauty arenas as well as travel gear and care for your home and pets while away.