Passport Service: When You Need a Passport in a
by Roberta Roberti
April 15, 2004
When I began writing this article, I had no idea that
I would very shortly require the services of one of the
companies whose site I had visited. It happened on my
way to the island of Jamaica, where I was to spend 6 days
and 5 nights.
|A trip to Jamaica was almost foiled for me and my traveling companion, but the Internet helped speed
us through travel-related bureaucracy.
To make a long story short, my traveling companion and
I arrived at the airport only to be denied entry to the
plane because my friend did not have the proper identification.
Jamaica does not require passports—you can enter
with a birth certificate and state-issued photo identification.
She does not have a driver’s license and they deemed
all the identification she showed them unacceptable.
A non-driver’s license would take 3 weeks, and she
did not have a passport. And anyone who has applied for
a passport can tell you that, in general, it takes 6-8
weeks to get one. After useless pleading and crying, there
was only one way to salvage our trip—attempt to
push all our reservations over one day and enlist the
help of an express passport service.
There are several online services to choose from, all
in the business of expediting passports. Most of these
companies process visa requests as well, though a few
How this works is that you pay the company a fee to process
your paperwork and put it through to the U.S. Passport
Bureau, which gives it priority treatment. The passport
bureau is very particular about how the paperwork should
be done — a procedure must be followed, which all
the sites adhere to. The sites explain in detail what
information you must submit and in what manner. At the
end of this article, you will find a list of several sites.
Prices vary, but not widely. For example, the cost for
a new adult passport is in the $125-150 range for “urgent”
processing (1-2 days), $80-140 for “rush”
(2-4 days) and $50-80 for “regular” (4-8 days).
One company, Abriggs.com,
claims to have the lowest prices on the Internet (and
do, as far as I was able to determine) at $120/$70/$45,
has lower prices ($100/$50/$45), but the quickest time
is 2-3 days. Sometimes you can find deals. As of this
writing, Global Passport and Visa Services (www.globalpassport.com)
had a two-for-one sale: $75 off with two
or more passports; and Samspassports.com
offers discounts on four or more passports.
Two points to keep in mind: One is that these prices do
not include government fees for the documents; these are
only the service fees that the companies charge for expediting
the paperwork. The government charges its own fees (would
it be any other way?) of $145 total for new passports.
(I say “total” because the fees are actually
separated into two parts and require two separate checks
or money orders.)
The other thing to remember is that unless you pay for
the urgent or rush services, it takes a while to receive
your documents. Yes, regular service promises 6-8 days
but this is for processing—it does not include delivery
time, which can be an additional 10 to 12 days.
In the end, it could very easily be a month before you
see your passport. If you have that much time to wait,
you don’t need them. If, indeed, you are traveling
soon and need your passport in less than a month, then
it is worth the money to go urgent or rush for peace of
mind. In fact, some of these companies have only urgent
and rush services to begin with. Some have guaranteed
24-hour turnaround time. Just make sure to determine whether
they mean 24-hour processing time or if delivery time
is included in this timeframe. Some of these sites have
physical offices where you can pick up your passport.
If you can find one near you, that will cut delivery time.
In my friend’s case, she had a passport in her hand
the same day.
One caveat to all this: The U.S. Passport Bureau is not
keen on expediting passports for people who just feel
like getting one fast. This is especially true with the
heightened security after September 11. You must prove
that you urgently need one, that your trip is booked and
scheduled within a certain amount of time (48 hours for
urgent service). Be prepared to show airline tickets or
your itinerary, which can simply be the e-mail confirmation
from your airline. Otherwise, your application will not
Some sites are more motivated than others. Oddly, there
will be companies that cannot service you in the timeframe
you need. One company was able to finally help my friend
but another told her that it was booked and could do nothing
for her (www.passportsplus.com),
which tells me that just because they are there, it doesn’t
mean they will help you. You may have to shop around.
Another document that many of these sites claim you can
get through them is your birth certificate. This is not
always true. In many cases, you still have to obtain a
birth certificate on your own while it merely provides
a link to a processing site, such as www.vitalchek.com.
Vitalchek.com places the order for your birth certificate
from whatever state agency holds it (in New York, it is
the Department of Health). There is no extra fee for this,
except a shipping charge, the cost of which depends on
whether you want it sent regular mail or FedEx. Some companies
will put in the request for you for a fee (generally around
$40) in addition to your state’s fees. This is completely
unnecessary—if you are filling out a form online
anyway, why not do it directly with your state’s
agency or with Vitalchek.com? Why fork over a fee just
to have someone else forward the forms? (In New York,
for example, the state fee is $15; with regular shipping,
it’s $20.50 and with FedEx it is $33, which is still
cheaper than paying one of these guys their processing
If you are truly in a hurry for it, go down to your town
or city hall and get the document yourself. You will save
on ridiculous shipping costs and you will get it on the
spot. When you think about it, paying an $18 shipping
fee for a piece of paper that can be gotten easily and
instantly is quite absurd.
Even though some of these companies claim to be in business
10, 20, even 30 years, these services are being newly
discovered by many, thanks to the Internet. Reputation
may be an obscurity for these guys, so if you want credentials,
look for their affiliations. Some endorsements to look
for are the Better Business Bureau, American Society of
Travel Agents (ASTA), Netcheck Commerce Bureau, American
Tourism Society, and the United Sates Travel Association
Government information regarding travel in foreign countries
can be found at these sites. It includes restrictions
and advisories, health and vaccination updates, and country-by-country
customs and immigration requirements.
Many sites also have links to other travel-related sites,
such as currency exchanges, consulates, cultural information,
travel agents, hotel sites, car rentals, and cruise sites.
Where available, order tracking is helpful. (Actually,
if you are the anxious type, this may be a bad thing—checking
the status of your application every 5 minutes and finding
that nothing has changed may prove disturbing.)
If you are going to be driving in a foreign country, an
international driver’s permit (IDP) may be required.
In fact, more than 40 countries require an IDP to rent
a car. An IDP is valid for 1 year from date of issuance.
A few sites that will apply for one on your behalf are
Passport and Visa Specialists (www.quickpassports.com),
US Passport & Visa (www.us-passport-visa.com),
Travel the World Visa (www.world-visa.com),
Texas Tower (www.texastower.net),
and CIBT, Inc. (www.cibt.com).
A few sites have extended services to meet some other
needs of travelers. Both Travisa.com
have travel stores, where you can purchase passport holders,
converter kits, translators, travel organizers, hanging
pouches, and so on.
Travel insurance is another concern for travelers and
it is routinely recommended in case of illness or injury.
Four sites that sell travel insurance (or gather quotes
for you) are Traveldocs.com,
Communication with family and business associates is often
necessary. For most of us, cell phones do not work internationally.
That’s where global cell phone rentals come in.
sell global cell phones. Zvs.com
and Travisa.com sell international calling cards.
Passportvisaexpress.com offers a perk to
those in the travel industry. It has an affiliate program,
which can mean commissions and bonuses for travel agents,
tour operators, and travel products suppliers.
In the end, my friend and I were very grateful that express
passport services existed. You can go directly to the
U.S. Passport Bureau and expedite your own passport, but
believe me, after you’ve completed the first several
steps, you won’t want to go any further. Pass the
torch to the next person in the relay and let them take
it from there. They do it all the time and know the ins
and outs of the whole deal. It’s worth the fee.
How else could my friend have gotten her passport in 6
Roberta Roberti is a Brooklyn-based food
writer who owns her own chef business and has written
a soon-to-be-published cookbook on vegetarian Italian