Passport processing times have gotten much longer since the WHTI went into effect in January 2007. The system was immediately flooded with applications, which created a huge backlog and a 10- to 15-week wait for routine service (two to six weeks for expedited service). On June 8, in an attempt to alleviate the situation, Congress passed a provision that permitted citizens to present official proof of a pending passport application when returning by air to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean before September 30. But get ready for another run on passports when the land and sea portion of the initiative takes effect, which could be as early as summer 2008. Ten times more people cross the borders by land and sea than by air.
Does everybody have to apply in person?
The State Department's Passport Agency says you must apply in person for a U.S. passport if you meet any of the following descriptions:
- You are applying for a U.S. passport for the first time.
- Your previous passport was lost or stolen.
- Your previous passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago.
- Your previous passport has expired and was issued when you were under 16.
- Your name has changed since your passport was issued and you do not have a legal document formally changing your name.
Minor children must appear in person.
Applying for a passport is not really difficult -- but you must follow very specific rules. Follow these steps and you'll have all your bases covered:
1) Complete application Form DS-11 -- but DO NOT sign the form until you are instructed to do so by the passport agent. (As we mentioned, application forms can be obtained from any passport agency or acceptance facility, or by downloading the form from the State Department's Web site. In addition, some travel agents keep application forms on hand for their clients.)
2) Present proof of U.S. citizenship (NOT your voter's registration card, military discharge card or Social Security card, but one of the following):
- Previous U.S. passport
- Certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state. (The way you'll know you have a certified birth certificate is that it has a registrar's raised, embossed, pressed or multicolored seal and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office.)
- Consular report of birth abroad
- Naturalization certificate
- Certificate of citizenship
If you don't have (or can't find) any of these documents, there's still hope. Read on for more identification options.