Need a passport fast? This site cuts through the red tape, whether you're applying for a new passport or replacing one that you lost .....
..... If you're too busy to handle the details yourself, try a document-expediting service called Travisa (travisa.com).
You've packed your bags, you've booked your cab to the airport, you've checked your
passport and - oh my God! - it's expired.
First thing: Get down on your knees and give thanks you live in the Bay Area, one of 13 metropolitan areas where it's possible to get a U.S. passport issued or renewed the day you apply.
Normally it takes six weeks through the mail; those in a serious hurry can pay an extra $35 for two-week expedited service.
Phone the San Francisco Passport Agency at (415) 538-2700 and follow the voice mail instructions. You will be required to tell them when you're planning to leave the country (don't lie; they'll ask to see your airline tickets) and, based upon that date, you will be given an appointment to come into their office on Hawthorne Street in downtown San Francisco office, fill out the paperwork and receive your new or renewed passport.
Do not show up without an appointment, waving your expired passport in the air and shrieking hysterically. The guards won't be impressed.
Devin Jindrich's vacation was saved by this service. The 30-year-old Berkeley resident and his fiancee "were just shopping around (on the Web), and we found these really cheap tickets to Amsterdam. We got them and I realized my passport had expired."
Jindrich phoned the passport office and told them he would be flying out the following Tuesday. He was delighted to be granted an appointment for noon.
Jindrich showed up an hour early to fill out the application form, available from a box outside the passport office entrance on the fifth floor at 95 Hawthorne St. He brought the required items: two 2-by-2-inch photos of himself, his old passport, his airline ticket, itinerary and checkbook.
The same fast-track service is available for first-time passport applicants,
who must produce proof of U.S. citizenship (a birth certificate or, for immigrants, naturalization or citizenship papers) in place of an old passport.
Jindrich had picked a quiet day. Only a handful of applicants were inside the large waiting room when he was permitted to pass through the metal detector and stroll straight to a check-in window. He was assigned a number and was directed to sit down and wait for an available clerk.
Before he could reach a chair, his number was announced on a public address system and a lighted sign told him to go to window No. 8. There, Jindrich told passport clerk Vivian Najaro he needed a passport as soon as he could get one.
The process took less then three minutes. Najaro looked over his papers and accepted a check for $75.
"If he had done this six weeks ago, he could have got it for $40," Najaro told me as I peered over Jindrich's shoulder.
"Six weeks ago I didn't know a lot about my life," he replied with a smile.
Najaro instructed Jindrich to return at 2 p.m. the following day to pick up his passport. She said applicants who appear on the day they are departing and those who travel more than 200 miles to keep an appointment can get their passports on the same day they apply.
"Sometimes we have to say no," she said. That's because applicants show up without the necessary documents. Photocopies are not acceptable; you've got to bring the originals.
While making an appointment at the passport office is the cheapest way to obtain a last-minute renewal (or new passport), it's not always the easiest. Some people prefer to use a commercial service like Travisa, which will deal with the passport office on your behalf - for a price.
"We can do it in a day if we need to," said Pete Kirchgessner, manager of the Travisa office at 41 Sutter St., Suite 215, San Francisco 94104 (phone: 415-837-0771 or 800-421-5468; fax: 415-837-0775). Travisa also handles mail applications. Customers can have the new passports delivered to their doors within 24 hours of the time the application (with photos and documentation) arrives at Travisa, said Kirchgessner.
The service is popular with people who live out of town or who can't afford to take time off work to stand in line at the passport office.
Using a service like Travisa almost triples the passport cost. On top of the $75 passport fee, Travisa charges $134 for a 24-hour turn-around (plus cost of overnight package delivery each way), $69 for one week and $49 for one- month service.
Travisa is a national operation, so it's a great deal for people in, say, Wichita, Kan., or Laramie, Wyo., who need passports in a hurry. Other Travisa offices are located in New York, Chicago, Puerto Rico and at company headquarters in Washington, D.C. The corporate Web site is www.travisa.com.
For your procrastinating cousins far away, the State Department's other same-day-service passport offices are located in Boston; Chicago; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; Seattle; Stamford, Conn.; and Washington D.C.