"Do you have a current passport?"
"...Are you sure?"
My ticket had been booked and my itinerary was confirmed. In less than 59 hours I would be stepping on a plane heading to Paris, France. The trip was an extremely unique opportunity to drive two highly-customized expedition vehicles from France to Estonia—we'd be crossing 9 countries in one week!
It was just before 4:00pm on Wednesday and we were confirming our tickets on the 180 mph TGV train that would take us from Paris to Avingnon in the South of France. As we entered in the required passenger passport information the world, and a whole lot of planning nearly came to an abrupt halt! My passport was indeed current but only for another 60 days.
The catch in this scenario was that the Schengen countries that we would be visiting all require that the person visiting has passport current for at least 90 days after the end of their visit. Apparently this is a policy put in place to ensure that you don’t get stuck with an invalid and expired passport. You’re welcome to visit but at some point they will need you to leave! Schengen countries require 90 days of passport validity and some countries require up to 12 months left on your passport!
To learn the specific requirements for the areas you plan to travel in, look here: http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html.
The Schengen Area consists of 26 countries who accepted the Schengen Agreement first implemented in 1985 which allows for free flowing travel between their borders without the need for extensive security and border checkpoints. We drove from France through Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia into Estonia without having to stop for any border crossing checkpoints!
So after my heart started back up from the initial shock of having a current but invalid passport, the problem solving began. Sending in an old passport for renewal can take four to six weeks. If you pay the extra fee and request expedited service you can get this down to two to three weeks. So how in the world do you get it done in less than 59 hours? The clock was ticking!
A call to the passport office in Phoenix, Arizona was met with sympathy and recommendations to try and get a refund on my plane ticket. After questioning the representative a bit more, they helpfully transferred me to the Passport Office in Washington D.C. While on hold I found some extremely helpful information from a website called Dave Naffziger’s Blog—which included testimonials from others in my same situation. I confirmed this information with the D.C. office and they transferred me to the Tucson, Arizona office with a kind “Good Luck!”.
Once in touch with the Tucson offices automated system I was able to schedule an appointment for 9:30am the next morning.
Here is a breakdown on what to do:
- Call the U.S. Department of State: 877-487-2778
- Using the automated system select the closes regional passport center to your location and schedule the next available appointment.
- Show up early for your appointment. (My appointment was for 9:30am and they saw me fifteen minutes early.)
- Be certain to bring with you:
- Current Passport
- Drivers License or State ID
- You Travel Itinerary, copy of your airline reservation details
- Application for a U.S. Passport. Be sure to fill this out ahead of time! http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/79955.pdf?
- Two new official passport pictures. Many convenience stores offer this for about $10, I got mine at the Walgreens Drug Store.
- Cash or credit card to pay your fee.
- Be patient, be well organized and be polite and curious!
I arrived at the passport office over an hour-and-a-half ahead of time and by 9:15 I was standing at a teller window explaining my case. I was surprised at how simple the experience was. I presented all of my paperwork, explained that my flight was on Saturday morning and that my passport was invalid for Schengen counties. I was passed from window #1 to window #2, asked a few security questions about my trip and told to return for my updated passport at 2:00pm!
I returned to the office at 12:30 and my passport was ready and waiting for me, over an hour-and-a-half early.
- Official U.S. Department of State instructions: http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html
- Dave Naffzigger’s Blog with testimonials from other successful stories: http://www.naffziger.net/blog/fix-its-how-tos-info/getting-a-same-day-passport/
- Official U.S. Department of State Passport Renewal Form DS-11: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/79955.pdf?
- Country specific travel information for U.S. Passport holders: http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html
- Information on the Western Passport Center in Tucson Arizona: http://travel.state.gov/passport/npic/agencies/agencies_4573.html