By Catharine Hamm
11:00 AM EDT, April 14, 2013
Question: My passport will expire at the end of August. Because I travel for my job frequently and sometimes with little advance notice, I cannot be without a passport for the four to six weeks it will take to get a new one. Also, many visas I will be applying for require a passport with at least six months left of validity, meaning I need to get a new one sooner rather than at the last minute. Is there any good way for people like me to transition to their next passport?
Lisa Kim Davis
West Los Angeles
Answer: Yikes. Davis has a problem. If that sounds like a wonderful grasp of the obvious, it's not just the problem associated with the question she asked; like many problems, that one can probably be solved by throwing money at it.
It's a problem that the passport expediters to whom I talked emphasized repeatedly: If your passport expires in less than six months, a country may refuse you entry even if there's no visa requirement. Among those countries that require at least three and sometimes six months on your U.S. passport, according to the State Department's website: Ecuador (six months), Spain (three months), Fiji (three), Thailand (six) and Belgium (three).
Note that countries also may use different dates in considering a passport that's about to expire; it could be three months from when you leave that country or three months from the date you arrive. The best way to check: Go to travel.state.gov and check country-specific information for entry and exit requirements. And attention, travelers: This is critical. Anybody who is traveling abroad needs to know the rules and regulations on passports and visas for each country he or she is visiting.
You can get a passport from the State Department in less than its four- to six-week waiting period by using its expedited service. Last week the wait time for the expedited passport was two to three weeks.
Need it sooner than that? You can make an appointment at the Los Angeles Passport Agency, whose rules say its appointments are for those who need their passport in less than two weeks or need a passport within four weeks for a visa. The number for the automated appointment system is (877) 487-2778. When I called (anonymously) at about noon on Monday, I could get an appointment for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Need it sooner than that? It may be time to call on a passport expediter. When I caught up with Steven Fox, the president of FastportPassport.com, based in New York, he was working on a passport for a Los Angeles client who had sent it to the company overnight. It was processed through the Philadelphia Passport Agency and was being returned that same day so the client could go to London the next day.
As with any expedited service, proof of travel, whether it's your ticket or some other documentation, is required. You'll also need to have the money to pay for the service. The sooner you'll need your passport, the more it generally will cost, from $70 to $300 or more.
If you Google "expediters" and "passport," you'll find dozens of names. How do you know which one to choose?
Price may be one point to consider, said Rob Smith, executive director of the National Assn. of Passport and Visa Services, based in Silver Spring, Md. But, he said, it should not be the only point.
Next week: More on how to choose an expediter. We'll also talk about whether having a second U.S. passport is a possibility.
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