My family concluded it would be fun to travel abroad and as a result, we needed passports. Mine was up to date, but my husband had let his lapse and my daughter had never gotten one.
Seemed simple enough: you could fill out the application online and took it to the post office, along with an ID and a picture. Easy, right?
No. It took me four days to get this done, despite being as prepared as possible. So, here’s what I learned.
- Start early. In fact, if I had one thing to tell you, it’s start early. No one ever does this and it makes things so much easier if you do. When I did my passport, I did it online and sent it in. I don’t even remember anything about sending it in, so it was a non-event. My family, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to find time to get this done. I will say this was fairly difficult; it seemed silly to pull the child out of school to satisfy the post office hours for passports and my husband is frequently out of town. We had planned to do it over Christmas, but they both got the flu! Once we needed to get the passports, it got much more complicated.
- Read the directions as though they are the Gospel truth. There really is no flexibility in these rules. And, your application can be rejected, depending on who takes your application, because they take the rules extremely seriously. They almost rejected our application on our third attempt drop it off because the picture background wasn’t pure white. (It was a solid light gray.)
- Have the right official documents. Five weeks after my child was born, I made my way to the county office, half an hour away. They handed me a wallet-sized piece of paper that was considered a birth certificate. Included on this certificate was her name, her county of birth, the date, a number and the date the document was filed. When we took this to the post office, presuming it would be good enough, since it was the only birth certificate the state provided, we were told we had to try again. Apparently, the State Department insists that the birth certificate has the parents’ names on them. (Yes, I would assume a birth certificate would tell you who the parents were, but that is not what I got from the state. I know it doesn’t make sense. Hey, I live in South Carolina.)
- Get paperwork together now. Even if you don’t need the passport any time soon, go ahead and make sure your birth certificate has the proper names on it. If you don’t need it at once, you can get it via mail. It takes about four weeks. It’s a simple form and it costs $12. Save yourself the trip to the vital records office and their limited hours and get it by mail. And get an extra one. Well worth the extra $3, because the passport office wants the original document. (Note: the clerk here was a sweetie and when told I needed the long term birth certificate to get a passport, she said, “We hear this all the time.”)
- CALL government offices. When I called the Oconee vital records office, I found out they were open on Mondays and Wednesdays for a total of 4 hours a day. This was not on the website and I would have been devastated to drive a half out away to find they were not open. Unfortunately, I didn’t call when they were open, or I would have found out that they don’t issue the birth certificate that I needed. I then had to drive the half hour back to where I started, then another half hour further east, to get to the Greenville Health Department. This time, I called them to see when they closed, where they were and what exactly I might need. I waited half an hour and got the certificate in about five minutes.
- Don’t rely on government websites. Yes, I know that sounds a lot like number 4, but I add it again. I looked up the hours for my local post office and the hours I could submit a passport. It said “9:30-12:30, 1:30-3.” So, I went down there at 12:20 and was told, “We only take these before noon.” When I pointed out that I got the hours off the website, I was told “we have no control over that website.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask. When we got to the post office on Friday and were turned away, I pressed them on the point of both parents being present to get a passport for a minor. It was really going to be a challenge to find a day when the three of us could get there. When I explained the difficulty of getting us up there, they finally relented and admitted there was another form we could use. My husband had to give his consent for us to get a passport, explain why he couldn’t be there and then get it notarized, as well as give us a copy of his ID. A pain in the ass? Yes, but imagine how upset we would have been if we had gone to great lengths to get the three of us there and be told we hadn’t gotten there by noon. Ask if there are ways to work around some of the difficult parts of the process. The answer might be no, but you might be surprised as well.
The good news is, with the application, the consent form, the barely acceptable photo, the copy of our IDs, my ID in person, the long form birth certificate, two large checks and my lucky underwear, we managed to get the thing accepted and in the mail. Now we wait to see if it works.
Good luck to everyone else trying to make it through the labyrinth!