Renewing a Passport in 24 Hours

September 23, 2016

I was all set for my latest trip: shopping completed, all entry requirements checked and double checked, places to stay arranged for a little while. And then I realized something especially disconcerting…

My passport was almost out of empty pages

It shouldn’t have really surprised me. After all, this is the passport I’ve held since I had to renew it in Japan in 2008, so you can imagine the tens of stamps that have filled its pages: Thailand, Macau, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, UAE, Peru…

I did some quick checks: all told, I had two completely empty pages and 2-3 spaces on other pages which might have been enough room for a stamp or two. If I was planning on simply going through China (transit visa), Hong Kong (visa on arrival), Cambodia (visa on arrival), and Thailand (visa on arrival) this trip, then there probably would have been just enough room to me to legally travel without being hassled by immigration. Don’t take the lack of space in one’s passport lightly: you can get denied entry if border control decides there’s not enough room to make a clear stamp.

In my case, what if I decide to head to Macau for a day? Or pass through the UAE (takes up a whole page)? Or jet down to Bali with a friend? Indonesia requires two completely blank passport pages to issue a visa on arrival.

You may be thinking: why get a new passport? Yours doesn’t expire for another 15 months. Just add pages.

Wrong. The US Department of State discontinued that service in January.

What to do? The first answer seemed obvious. I discovered this problem on a Wednesday evening, and my flight is Saturday morning. Realistically, I doubt I had enough time to apply for a renewal in the US, even with expedited service. However, I was planning to spend a few weeks in Chiang Mai, which has a US Consulate with passport service. Strike one: from September 12th to November 1st, the building will be undergoing renovations and closed to the public.

I had read a travel piece a while back on how it’s technically possible to get a passport the next business day in the US, but the fees seems ridiculous: over $350 for processing alone, not including the $110 fee for the book itself.

So, I had a choice to make: I could make an appointment with an official passport agency in Dallas, plead my case – I had no family or medical emergency, after all – and hope they could come through with a new shiny passport book in a day, or hop on the plane and try to work something out abroad when I’m close to a consulate or embassy.

I chose the former. Luckily Dallas’ office had plenty of availability in the morning. All I had to do was bring:

1. DS-82 form for passport renewals
2. Two passport photos
3. Proof of immediate travel
4. Old passport
5. $170 in fees: $110 for the passport, $60 for expedited service

With the end of the passport pages service, anyone can apply for a 52-page book at no additional charge. The result?

New and old passport

One shiny new passport for Once A Traveler. See you out there.

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