Fast Passports

It’s been a while since I’ve seen my husband Patrick’s impulsive side. But last week was our anniversary, and he surprised me with a trip to Italy. “Last-minute deal on the package — tremendous bargain,” he whispered, assuaging my immediate anxieties about money.

“But we leave in two weeks.” Bang! — the anxiety returned.

“But, honey, what about our passports?” I asked.

Here’s what I got from the Community Service Center program, Clairemont location (sandiego.gov/servicecenters/; 858-581-4111; seven locations around San Diego): “You must apply in person. Applications are available here or at the State Department’s website. Complete through item 22 and don’t sign it. Bring proof of citizenship, such as a previous passport, an original birth certificate, original naturalization certificate, or a certificate of Consular Report of Birth Abroad. You will also need proof of identity, such as a current driver’s license. And two passport photos. For payment, we take personal checks or money orders; the cost is $75 for the passport fee, payable to the U.S. Department of State. And there is an execution fee of $25, payable to the City Treasurer. For children 15 and younger, the passport fee is reduced to $60, but the execution fee is the same. Processing takes four to six weeks, but for an additional $60 fee, it can be expedited and processed in three to four.”

Not good enough. My toes were still twitching with anxiety. I called A Official Passport (three San Diego County locations; aofficialpassport.com). Joe, at the Escondido location, proved most helpful. I told him I needed a new passport for Patrick and a renewal for myself. “You just bring in your old passport, as long as it’s not more than five years old. We do the photos here for $12.95, and I walk you through the application. It’s a one-stop service. Then you pay for postage, which is $26, for a total of $38.95.” (Plus the government fee of $75.)

For Patrick’s new passport, he said, “You need to bring a birth certificate and a driver’s license. You get your photos and application here; we walk you through the process, and you go just a few blocks to the post office to finish it. The normal processing time is about a month.”

“But I need it in two weeks.”

“No problem,” Joe assured me. “We can get them both in six to seven days. Call our San Diego location and ask to reserve an emergency slot to come in for the seven-day passport. You and your husband should come in at the same time; that way, we can save on mailing expenses. You bring your old passport and have your husband bring his birth certificate and driver’s license. If there’s been a name change due to marriage since you were last issued a passport, bring your original marriage certificate as well. And bring your travel itinerary, with your names on it. And your checkbook. You’ll fill out everything here, online, with one of us right there. Then you’ll be sent next door to the Midway post office to get a sealed envelope. There are eight or ten passport agencies around the country; we’ll send it wherever there’s an opening. Sometimes it’s L.A., sometimes it’s Denver or Houston. How it works is this: the agents there have a commercial license. They sit around and bid on emergency passport slots. It’s a delicate process — you have to have an appointment or they won’t bid on it. And they have to have your itinerary to show there’s some reason why you need the emergency slot. We reserve the slot in your name, FedEx the information to the agent, and the agent goes to the front of the line and walks that passport through in your name.”

The cost for all this expediting? “It’s $160 in government fees for the new passport” and $135 for the renewal. “Then it’s $30 each way for the FedEx shipping, $12.95 per set of passport photos, our service fee of $119 for the new passport, and $79 for the renewal.”

Renu at Express Travel Service in Mira Mesa (866-376-1125; myvisapassport.com) told me that she could offer “an emergency, 24-hour, same-business-day service. That doesn’t include shipping time. If you came in on a Tuesday morning with a sealed envelope — which is needed for a new passport — and all the correct documentation, it would be at our passport agency Wednesday morning. If everything’s signed and they have no questions, it should be ready Wednesday afternoon, and you could get it back on Thursday. Exactly when would depend on what mail service you request for return. First overnight will get it here by 8 a.m.; priority, by 11, 11:30 a.m. The service charge for the 24-hour same-business-day service is $175. Government passport fees are $160,” and renewals are $135. “Getting it there by FedEx first overnight is $55, return prices depend on the service you order. Getting it processed in two to three business days has a fee of $150 plus the government fees and shipping; four to five business days is a $135 fee plus government fees and shipping.”

Express Travel Service did not offer photos, so I called around. Kinko’s and the UPS Store (various locations) both offer sets of two passport photos for $13.95. But middle-aged vanity led me to call a specialist — if I was going on a romantic getaway, I wanted my traveling papers to look good. So I called Mark at A-1 Broadway Foto (619-234-5876; a1broadwayfoto.com). “We specialize in passport photos,” said Mark. “We’ll do three or four poses, and you can choose which one you like best. It only takes five to ten minutes, and it’s $10.95 for the two photos.”

“And it’s better than Kinko’s?”

“Oh, God yes. We have samples on our front board — when you walk in, you’ll see the difference. It has to do with experience. I’ve been doing this since 1958. And as long as we’re not altering appearance, we can even do minor retouching. If a man cuts his face shaving in the morning, we can clean that up. The passport agency doesn’t have a problem with that because by the time the guy gets his passport back, his face will be healed.”

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