In a Rush? This Passport Mistake Could Cost You

July 12, 2012 | By | 13 Comments

passport-renewal-scam-cruise
One oft-forgotten rule of international travel is that many countries won’t allow you to enter if your passport’s expiration date is less than six months away. It certainly was a rule that I forgot about until I was reminded by a cruise line that my European voyage next month would be null and void if I didn’t have a new passport number, even though I have a few months left to go on the old one.
That meant I was in “your passport must be expedited” territory.
I assumed my Google search of “need to renew passport” would lead me straight to the State Department’s Web site. It didn’t. Instead, I ended up in the nether regions of a for-profit site called USPassportOnline.com. Clicking along obliviously — the Web site makes it somewhat but not overly clear that it’s not the official State Department site — I registered for the renewal. I checked off the box for the $45 nonrefundable fee, even as a flickering in my brain began to suggest that perhaps this wasn’t where I intended to go.
It wasn’t until I started downloading the renewal forms that it twigged: This is a for-profit service with for-profit prices. US Passport Online passes along the State Department’s $170 official fee ($110 for the passport + $60 for expedited service) but then tacks on an additional $54 for processing, the aforementioned $45 nonrefundable reservation fee and $30 for shipping. And that was for service in eight to 12 business days; charges rise steeply if your turnaround time is shorter. My bill totaled $299.
In contrast, the State Department charges $110 for the passport, $25 for processing, a mere $12.72 for overnight shipping and $60 for expediting — a grand total of $207.72 — almost $100 less.
I don’t know about you, but spending nearly $100 extra for nothing special makes me cranky. And while I could have, and should have, paid closer attention while submitting my request, US Passport Online’s Web site, with its red, white and blue color scheme, really could be mistaken for the official “passport” site.
In a call to the company’s toll-free hotline, I expressed my dismay about the process, and the sales representative’s terse response led me to believe he fields a lot of these calls from frustrated travelers. I canceled the order. The kicker? In an e-mail confirming the cancellation, US Passport Online notes that the refund, minus the $45 cancellation fee, will take a jaw-dropping “12 – 15 business days from your cancellation date” to return to my coffers.
Was it all just a scam? Not necessarily. Using a for-profit expeditor makes good sense if you have a really challenging turnaround time (less than a week) or if you don’t live near a regional passport agency where you can apply in person. But otherwise, there’s nothing easier or cheaper about using them over the State Department.
In checking out other expeditors for my not-quite-an-emergency needs, I noticed that CIBT.com at least didn’t use US Passport Online’s stars and stripes Web page design to confuse you into thinking it was part of the State Department’s passport services, but it still wasn’t terribly helpful; you have to go through the whole process of registering to find out what the fees are. (Or you can call its toll-free number and wait on hold; I hung up after 10 minutes.) At G3 Visas & Passports, the pricing info is right up front and seemingly easy to access; my two-week expedite cost would have been $245, but there was no mention of special fees and, yes, you have to go through the registration process to find out what other costs there are.
Ultimately, I was most comfortable with simply going through the U.S. State Department’s passport renewal service. I made an appointment at my nearby office in Philadelphia, planned it around a lunch with an old friend and saved money, too.
Check out sister site Independent Traveler for more info on passport and visa expeditors.
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    Comments

    13 Responses to “In a Rush? This Passport Mistake Could Cost You”

    1. Theron Keller
      July 12th, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

      We are long overdue to have the US State Department issue passports for a life span of 10 years and 6 months.

      The job or purpose of a passport is to get you into other countries, and then back into the US when you return.

      We are paying for a document that is supposed to do this for 10 years, but obviously, it does not work for 10 yeas, only 9 years and 6 months.

      It would cost nothing for this change, and provide the US Citizen with the full value of the product they are paying for.

    2. Jerry Dittrich
      July 12th, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

      There is a sucker born every minute.

    3. Katy Klose
      July 12th, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

      I always recommend for an expedited passport need to CAL YOUR CONGRESSMAN’S OFFICE-this is a service they can help with!!!

    4. Ron Casalotti
      July 12th, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

      While I feel your pain for paying for an unexpected fee and almost paying an exorbitant amount to renew your passport via an expediter, I think any article about the confusion regarding where to go online to renew your passport, should, you know, have the appropriate link to do so. So, here you go:

      http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html

      Punderful

    5. Suzanne Smith
      July 12th, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

      Be careful about not enough blank pages in the passport also. We got into trouble with this in Vietnam and Cambodia. Ended up paying 75 dollars for extra pages from the State Department. If you are low on blank pages, while you are overseas, visit and embassy. They will give you extra pages for no charge.

    6. Kari Jones
      July 12th, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

      I’m just shocked that one can renew a passport without even turning up anywhere in person? Don’t you have to prove that you are you, somewhere in the process? In Norway you have to bring your old passport with you and turn up in person + have a new photo taken.$100 and you have your new passport a week later. It’s all done through the Police Authorities, no profit-making organisation

    7. Bradley
      July 12th, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

      Despite living in Chicago, I used a service for my first passport as I will when it expires in a few years. It was simply much easier to get everything taken care of with one stop-photos forms etc. I paid a bit more than I would have, but the lack of hassle was worth it.

      Granted this is a local company not something online. With Chicago’s international business community, they exist simply because there is a need for a one-stop shop: easy in, easy out.

      There were no non-refundable fees nor were the charges excessive. If I needed expedited service they didn’t charge above the normal fee for that.

    8. Tricia Andrews
      July 12th, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

      When applying for visas for other countries whatch out for these types of websites as well. Go through the country’s official government website and pay their prices instead of a for profit website, UNLESS the consulate’s office (like Brazil’s in San Francisco) requires you use a third party to do the paperwork if you are not going to their office in person. Of course knowing when your passport or visa is about to expire and doing it in a none rushed manner is always preferred.

    9. Marc L.
      July 12th, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

      @Theron: You should be lucky. Canadian passports only last 5 years!

    10. Travelin Jones
      July 12th, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

      Funny how Google works. When searching “passport renewal” just now, the proper page from the State Department website came up first in the organic search list: http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html

      One other passport note, if you are going to travel out of the country one a year or more, and hate lines as much as we do, you should check out the Global Entry program. For $100 (good for 5 years, so $20 per year) and a background check, you get expedited entry into the US, plus expedited screening benefits by the TSA at the largest US airports. Here’s the link if you want to check it out.

    11. Scott
      July 13th, 2012 @ 3:17 am

      Sadly, Suzanne Smith’s comment that U.S. embassies will insert extra passport pages free is no longer true. I’ve lived abroad for more than a decade. Years ago, getting extra pages was free and easy. Today, an $82 fee applies and you need an appointment to visit the American Citizen Services section. The extra pages form can be filled out and printed online and once through embassy security, it takes less than an hour to get the job done.

    12. Cruise Critic
      July 13th, 2012 @ 10:55 am

      @Suzanne Smith, great point about extra pages — you do have to pay (and when I added pages on the last go round it was of course last minute and I went down to the passport office in Philadelphia.

      Carolyn Spencer Brown

    13. Cruise Critic
      July 13th, 2012 @ 10:55 am

      @Ron Casaloti — thanks for supplying the link. We messed up on that!

      Carolyn

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