Friday, July 8, 2011

How NOT to get a child's passport

Getting Littles' passport four years ago was a breeze, so when it came time to get Noob's, we thought it would be the same. Instead, we ended up doing so many things wrong that I realized I could write a post detailing what not to do when it's time to get a passport for your child.

1. Wait till the very last minute.
This page gives the current processing times for passports. As of this writing, it can take up to 6 weeks. If you wait till 6 weeks before your trip and then start the process... Murphy's Law will inevitably kick in, you'll hit a bump in the process, and you'll end up having to pay an extra $60 to expedite.

We started the process about 8 weeks before our trip. Plenty of time, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

2. Lose (or forget to request) the child's birth certificate
You need to provide proof of citizenship to get a passport, and by far the easiest proof to provide is a copy of the applicant's birth certificate. So, if you've misplaced your child's birth certificate, or if you never requested a copy, you'll need to do so.

If you still live in or near the county where your child was born, check with the county clerk's office first, as they may have a copy there that you can quickly request in person. Otherwise, you'll need to go through the state capitol.

Noob's birth certificate had not been sent to our local county clerk's office, so we had to go through Austin. We opted to have it mailed to us, rather than doing a road trip to pick it up in person. They said it would take 10-15 business days. It took 15 business days on the nose.

That put us at 5 weeks before our trip, so we knew we'd need to expedite the passport.

3. Lose (or forget to request) the child's Social Security card
You don't need the actual card to apply for a passport, but you do need to provide the application's Social Security number. So if you haven't memorized your child's SSN and you can't find the card, you'll need to get that straightened out before applying for the passport.

We have Noob's (and Littles') Social Security card tucked away in a safe spot in our house, so this wasn't a problem. Yay!

4. Just show up to your local post office to apply for the passport.
Not all post offices have passport facilities, and those that do may require an appointment. Check this page to identify a post office or other nearby facility that accepts passport applications. It states whether or not the facility requires an appointment and also gives the hours, but you should call to confirm both.

We knew our local post office did have passport facilities, and when I checked the page above, it stated that appointments weren't required. So we just showed up... and found out that they had started requiring appointments about two weeks before. When I pointed out that the website said no appointment was required, the lady told us, "Oh yeah, they haven't updated that website yet." Great.

She gave us the option of scheduling an appointment for mid to late June (for a July 7th departure!) or going to our city's main post office, which did not require appointments for passport applications. We chose the latter.

In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to call other nearby passport acceptance facilities, to see if any of them had appointments sooner... but we didn't.

5. If you don't have an appointment, expect to be in and out in an hour.
We arrived at the main post office at 9:30 AM. We didn't leave until after 1 PM. We packed the diaper bag and snacks for Noob, but left them at home -- oops. Luckily, I had plenty of time to run home midmorning to pick them up, because we definitely needed them.

6. Send just one parent to apply for the passport.
When applying for a child's passport, unless one parent has sole legal custody, the child and both parents need to appear in person, or one parent must appear with a notarized Statement of Consent. (Full parental consent requirements are here.)

Thankfully, we knew this, but woman directly in front of us in line did not. And so when she finally got to the front of the line after waiting for nearly 4 hours with her two kids, she was told to go home and get her husband. Ouch.

7. Wait till you get to the passport acceptance facility to fill out the application.
It's faster to fill it out online and print it at home. That also gives you the chance to gather all the required information ahead of time.

We were almost ready to leave for the passport office when I thought, "Hey, why don't I take a minute to fill out that application online?" Good thing, because we don't have Noob's Social Security number memorized, and as I mentioned earlier, it's required on the passport application. Filling out the application ahead of time saved us another trip home to get the card.

8. Wait till you get to the passport acceptance facility to take your child's passport photo.
Again, not all facilities have photo capabilities, and even if yours does, it might be hard to get a good photo with your young child. I explained how to make your own passport photos at home in a separate post.

After all that, we finally managed to get Noob's darn passport... so now we can forget about this whole process and just renew it by mail in 10 years, right? Wrong.

9. Forget that kids must renew their passports every 5 years, in person.
Adult passports expire after 10 years and can be renewed by mail. But kids' passports expire after only 5 years, and must be renewed in person -- essentially using the same process as first-time applicants. That means that we'll be going through this entire process again for Littles next year. I plan to not follow the advice in this post :)

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