Last-Minute Passports

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 by Rudy Maxa.

Let’s say you’ve never been out of the U.S. but a sudden opportunity arises and you’re caught without a passport. It can take Uncle Sam six weeks or more—depending on how busy the U.S. passport office is—to get you that all-important document through regular channels. But there are other options.

First of all, remember that as of June 1st of this year, all Americans re-entering the U.S. need a government-issued document that shows your citizenship and identity. And a driver’s license doesn’t make the cut.  

There’s an I.D. called a “passport card” that’s valid only for land and sea travel from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Note those two words: “land” and “sea.” Not air.

My advice is if you’re leaving the country to anywhere, get yourself a passport. Yes, it costs $100 for adults, but it’s the best way to identify yourself while traveling abroad and returning home. You can find an application form online.  

But what if you have to get out of Dodge quickly? You know, a quickie wedding of a friend in London, an unexpected business trip or a major lottery win.

You have two choices: Pay Uncle Sam an expediting fee or hire a private company that will secure a passport—or visa—for you in a day, though that’ll cost you a couple of hundred dollars or more on top of the cost of a passport. The services, mostly based in Washington, D.C., are called “expeditors,” and you can find them online by searching for “passport expeditors.” They and Federal Express will suddenly be your new best friends.

And here’s something to keep in mind: Some countries, including Mexico, won’t let you enter if your passport is within six months of expiring. Believe it or not, if you land in Mexico City and your passport is, say, three months away from expiring, you’ll in all likelihood be put on the next plane home. So check the expiration date on your passport, and if it’s within six months and if you even think there’s a chance you’ll want to travel abroad soon, renew that passport now.

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About Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa is host and executive producer of the public television travel series, Rudy Maxa's World. The 78 episodes he has hosted have won numerous awards, including a 2008 regional Emmy for his episode "Rajasthan." He's a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has written for a host of national travel magazines and newspapers. For nearly 15 years he offered consumer travel commentary on public radio's business show Marketplace as "The Savvy Traveler," which was also the name of a one-hour, coast-to-coast weekend show on public radio that he co-created and hosted for four years. Prior to his career as a travel writer and broadcaster, Maxa was an award-winning Washington Post investigative reporter, magazine writer, and columnist for 13 years, during which time his reporting was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He was a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Spy magazine. The author of two non-fiction books, Maxa lives in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

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