I’ve been gearing up for my first big trip in a while, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on travel in the post-9/11 climate. Predictably, most of the headaches you might run into are caused by the US State Dept. In an effort to better control the borders (1951 miles to the south, 5522 miles to the north, not even counting both coasts) they’ve made it extra-specially difficult to get a passport and started requiring them even for travel to neighboring countries. It now takes about 12 weeks to get a passport through normal channels, so you can imagine my panic when I couldn’t find mine six weeks before my trip. In fact I didn’t find it until two weeks before, in a box that must have been one of the last ones packed before my last move based on the jumble of papers inside. Whew!
If you find yourself needing a passport in under six weeks, chances are you’ll need to go wait in line at a passport office to get it. If it’s a renewal you can pay someone to do this, but if you’ve lost yours you’ll have to go yourself. You aren’t allowed to get an “emergency” passport until two weeks before you need it, and you have to bring proof that you’re traveling within two weeks or have to submit your passport for a visa within that time. The following are the links I saved in case I needed to do this.
Violet Blue’s post about passport hell (in case you’re in doubt about how bad it is)
SF Chronicle article about how bad it is (good for scaring yourself into action ASAP)
State Dept’s passport page (keep in mind that the information is “best case scenario” and typically out-of-date)
National Passport Information Center (where to call when you need to find out if your passport will ever show up in time)
Passport Agencies (where to call for an appointment to go in person after you realize your passport will not show up in time)
It’s also interesting to see what governments and transportation agencies have been doing to try to improve security and speed up processing. The US has visitors get their picture taken and fingerprints scanned through the US-VISIT program. The UK has a voluntary retinal scan program called IRIS for residents and frequent visitors who want to bypass long security lines. SFO has recently joined the Registered Traveler Program (also voluntary) which is a service provided by a private company. They do a background check and you pay a yearly fee to breeze through security as a “pre-screened” passenger. I have to say that I’m more comfortable with my government scanning my eyeball than I am with them taking a private company’s word that I’m not a threat, especially a private company with an interest in taking my money. It’ll be interesting to see which of these programs take off and which are abandoned over time.