February 9, 2015

Passports for your kids

passport

Recently, we applied for passports for our kids so I wanted to pass along the goods. If you need one for spring break, then you are still within the 4-6 week window so there’s still time!

Two things:

1. Children under the age of 16 applying for passports must do so in person (cannot do it online) and both parents or the child’s legal guardians must be present in person. (if only one can be present or one parent is deceased, then there’s an additional form that must be filled out and notarized).

2. Passports for adults are valid for 10 years. Passports for children under 16 are valid for 5 years. (Make a note of this somewhere. I know parents who have “assumed” their child’s passport was valid for 10 years, like theirs, and they got to the airport and only then did they find out the 5 year rule. You know what happens when you “assume”? You make an a$$ of out u and me. Ouch.)

The process:

1. Passport forms – The forms are available at the travel.state.gov website. You will need form DS-11. It looks long but most of it is instructions so it really is only 2 pages. Fill it out before you go to the passport office.

2. Passport photos – They can be taken at CVS or Walgreen’s or at the passport office. CVS and Walgreen’s have software that sizes the photo to the exact specifications required by the State Department. It is $40 to have them taken at the USPS and $20 at Walgreen’s.

I do not recommend taking your own photos because the State Department has gotten VERY PICKY with photos. A friend told me her daughter’s passport was denied because she was wearing a headband. We had our kids’ passport photos taken at Walgreen’s.

3. Identification for parents – There are all sorts of identification that parents can take. We opted for our NC driver’s license.

You must bring your driver’s license AND a photo copy of your driver’s license. Make a photo copy of the front and back. My husband said “there’s nothing meaningful on the back of mine” to which I replied “FRONT AND BACK”.

Bring a photo copy for each child. I brought one copy of ours and got the stink eye from the USPS employee who begrudgingly made an additional copy after he thought about sending us home. I seriously thought he was going to send us home (I could see it in his eyes) and I was locked and loaded to have a grade A – DEFCON 1 – melt down, the likes of which he’s never seen. My husband silently prayed that the man made us a copy (I could see it in his eyes).

4. Identification for children – Parents must bring a certified copy of each child’s birth certificates – not a photo copy – the real deal.

5. Passport appointment – There are 7 passport offices in Charlotte. You have to make an appointment by calling the passport appointment line 704-359-0761 and NOT one of the 7 passport offices.

Good luck finding that super secret phone number on the website. I called one of the actual passport offices and when I fInALlY got someone on the phone, they gave me the passport appointment line number and hung up.

Once I got someone on the phone at the appointment line, booking the appointment was easy. Getting them to answer the phone so I could make an appointment was another story.

It reminded me of life before call waiting was invented – busy, busy, busy – redial, redial, redial, redial – and finally! – ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring… (Seriously? I’ve been calling you all night and suddenly you hang up your other call and RUN out the door?)

According to the USPS employee who helped us, the process changed to “appointment only” 4 or 5 months ago. Don’t quote him on that as he did not seem very sure although he’s worked the passport process for double digit years and has been working at the USPS long enough to retire next year (you can quote him on that). He admitted that the new appointment process needs some work and that they still had some kinks to work out. (yeah, you think? after snOMG ’14, our first appointment was cancelled so I had to start over to get a new appointment)

6. Bring some checks – Do not forget to bring checks. You need a separate check or money order for each applicant. There’s a fee for the State Department for each applicant and they only take checks – ours were $140 each. Then, you pay the USPS $50 (to put the applications in an envelope and apply a stamp) and they will take a credit card for that.

And now we wait. They told us routine processing takes 4-6 weeks and expedited takes 2-3 weeks. Bon voyage, I hope!

7 Responses

  1. Diana says:

    I just got passports for my two daughters as well. A couple of other tips:
    1) If you are a AAA member, you can go to one of their offices to have passport pictures taken and it is only $6.
    2) I had an impossible time getting someone to answer the phone to get an appointment in Charlotte as well. When I finally got someone to answer, they were fairly booked, and they only schedule one week at a time. I ended up making and appointment at the Gastonia Post Office and going there instead – it was a lot easier to make an appointment!

  2. Ashley says:

    Great tips. The process is more arduous than I realized!

  3. Alison says:

    I agree, just getting them on the phone to schedule was most of my dilemma! They need to work that issue out.
    We were pleasantly surprised the other day when our passports (5 of them) arrived 2 weeks from the date of our appointment!! We did not do expedited either. I guess we just lucked out.

  4. AH says:

    you can also go to one of the post offices that do the service and make an appointment at the desk, this requires an extra trip there to make the appointment but if you can’t get then to answer the phone this is a good option. we just did ours and the man filling out the forms says he only answers in between appointments and very rarely gets to return the messages.

    • Paige says:

      MR Cash, what would you recommend for someone who left a message last week, missed the call back and immediately started calling again to get a “voicemail box is full” message for more than a day and a half? How should I try to make an appointment for my children who have to have passports, but we can’t get in touch for the mandatory appointment phone call?

  5. MR Cash says:

    Can you tell me what post office in Charlotte you went to that charges $40 for passport photos? I am a passport acceptance agent with USPS and we only charge $15 for passport photos. It is my understanding that the same amout should be charged at all post offices.

    Also, it is somewhat misleading to say that USPS charges $50 to put the applications in an envelope and apply a stamp. There is a $25 acceptance fee per passport. That fee is for USPS passport acceptance agents to review the passport application to make sure that the application and supporting documents meet the state department guidelines. Some of the biggest mistakes we see are:

    (1) Applicants filling out the application in blue ink (even though it states right on the first page of the application that it is to be filled out in black ink ONLY). This is the State Department’s rule – not the post office’s rule – and your application will be rejected if completed in blue ink.

    (2) Many applicants think that the parental information only has to be filled in if the applicant is a minor. This is not true. The parental information must be completed for all applicants regardless of their age.

    (3) When completing the blanks for the applicant’s mother’s name it is asking for her maiden name (the mother’s name at the mother’s birth – not the mother’s name at the applicant’s birth).

    (4) Absolutely no white-out can be used on the application. If a mistake is made the applicant can either complete a new application or draw A SINGLE LINE through the incorrect information and then write the correct information.

    (5) Birth certificates – you were correct in stating that it must be a certified copy. We have applicants bringing in photocopies all of the time, which are not acceptable. If you don’t have a certified copy of your birth certificate, this website (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm) provides links to obtaining a certified copy of your birth certificate for every state. Or you can send in your original birth certificate. All accompanying documentation, whether it is original or certified, will be returned to you by the State Department.

    (6) If your name has been legally changed but your primary identification still has your old name you must provide an original or certified copy of documentation of your name change (marriage license or other legal documentation proving a legal name change).

    (7). Photos – we have a lot of applicants that bring in passport photos made at Walgreens, CVS, Fed-Ex Kinkos, AAA, etc., that do not meet the standards set forth by the State Department. The photos are taken too close up or too far away, have shadows, glare from glasses, are underexposed or overexposed, or their hair is obscuring a portion of their face. These outside photo places should have the same guidelines we have for passport photos but unfortunately, they don’t always follow them. We have to tell the applicants that they can either (a) return to the place that took the photos telling them they weren’t acceptable and that they need new photos made at no charge (b) we can take their photo for $15, or (c) they can send in the application with the photos we have determined are unacceptable according to the State Department’s guidelines, but that they will probably receive a letter saying that the photos are unacceptable and they will have to submit new photos resulting in a delay in receiving their passports. The applicants who choose option c usually end up returning to us at a later date for new passport photos (we tried to tell them but some people are just stubborn!).

    As you can see, that $25 acceptance fee is for a little more than just putting the application in an envelope and applying a stamp!

    • Paige says:

      MR Cash, what would you recommend for someone who left a message last week, missed the call back and immediately started calling again to get a “voicemail box is full” message for more than a day and a half? How should I try to make an appointment for my children who have to have passports, but we can’t get in touch for the mandatory appointment phone call?

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