Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Fring.
What To Expect When Getting a Same-Day Passport
Before I was invited on a press trip to Belize, I had no idea that you could get a same-day passport. Of course, when I was invited I didn’t have one. For years, I’d told myself I’d apply for a passport but with no international trips planned, I continued to put it off. My procrastination came back to bite me in the butt when I was invited to Belize.
After doing some research, I discovered it usually took around seven weeks for a passport to arrive in the mail. However, the trip was already less than seven weeks away when I was invited. Frustrated and disappointed with myself, I was preparing to decline the offer when a friend reached out to tell me about same-day passports.
Yes, you can apply for and get a passport on the exact same day.
There are a handful of passport agency offices across the country that allow travelers to secure a passport on the same day. However, there are restrictions that may or may not prevent you from getting one. Recently, I drove from St. Louis to the Chicago Passport Agency to get a same-day passport and, although it was a bit stressful, the experience was quite the adventure.
Thankfully I was able to get the passport but there are a few things you need to know if you’re getting a passport at the last minute. Here are a few things to keep in mind when getting a same-day passport before traveling internationally.
1. You Can’t Make An Appointment Until 14 Days Before Travel
As soon as I found out I could get a same-day passport, I immediately called the passport agency. The closest agency to me was Chicago and I knew I could get there in about four hours coming from St. Louis. Although their website states there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get an appointment, I knew I’d be able to get one considering my trip was still a month or so away.
So imagine my surprise when I called and was told I couldn’t schedule an appointment until 14-day out from my international travel.
I was sick. Honestly, as someone with really bad anxiety, I was scared. But I kept my cool and waited until two weeks before my trip to call and schedule an appointment. Unfortunately, the earliest slot they had was at 11 AM the day before my flight to Belize. Full of anxiety, I scheduled the appointment and at 3 AM on a Monday morning, my best friend and I drove to Chicago for the passport.
Be sure that you call to schedule your appointment exactly 14 days before your trip. If you wait just a day late, you could risk not getting an appointment before it’s time for you to depart. Also, keep in mind that just because you have planned international travel within a 14-day window, does not mean that you will get an appointment. So the entire process is super risky. Although this worked out for me, I encourage everyone to give themselves enough time to get a passport the standard route to avoid stress and possible mishaps.
2. You May Not Get It The Same-Day
When I called to make my passport appointment, the operator stated that although I had an appointment, I might not get the passport that same day. For me, this was stressful. My flight was scheduled to leave around 7 AM the next morning. What was I supposed to do if they didn’t issue me a passport that day?
This question flooded my mind as I walked through security and into the Chicago Passport Agency that morning. To make matters worse, there were signs posted throughout the office saying travelers would receive their passports within 72 hours of their appointment. While that might’ve worked for some folks, my flight was the very next day.
I didn’t have 72 hours to pick up a passport. Not to mention I lived four hours away from Chicago. There was no extra time to wait. I had to get one that day.
Knowing I could catch more bees with honey, I was overwhelming kind and appreciative to the agency staff members. They were clearly overworked and understaffed with travelers lined along the walls and sitting on the floor waiting for their passport interviews. There were so many people waiting they ran out of chairs.
I’m not sure if my extra kindness helped at all, but I was issued a passport that day. However, it’s important to remember that the agency can only issue a certain number of same-day passports each day. So even if you’re trip is the next day, there still is a chance you won’t be issued one.
3. Do Not Be Late To Your Appointment
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of timeliness when it comes to getting a same-day passport. Once you have an appointment you have a 15-minute grace period to arrive before they mark you as a no-show. You’ll be forced to reschedule your appointment, which could be weeks away causing you to miss your trip.
It’s also important to note that you can’t arrive at your appointment more than 15 minutes early. However, I would take advantage of this by arriving early to wait in line. When I drove to Chicago, I arrived in the city about three hours before my appointment. But I didn’t actually enter the building until 10 minutes before my time slot.
Depending on how long the line is, it’ll take you about 10 minutes to go through security so arrive early to avoid being that person crying outside of the agency because they’ve missed their appointment.
4. Be Prepare to Wait…For Hellas
Considering that I had an appointment, I assumed I would be doing my passport interview right at 11 AM. But I was wrong.
After going through security, you’ll stand in a long line and wait for a very long time. I think I stood in line for a little over an hour. There were at least 100 people in the office waiting to be interviewed. However, before you can be interviewed, you have to have all of your paperwork reviewed by a passport officer and get a ticket. This ticket places you in line for an interview.
By the time I made it through the ticket line, my appointment time had passed. However, the only thing that mattered was that I was in the line by my scheduled time. Once the officer reviewed all my documents and confirmed everything was acceptable, I took my ticket and sat down with the hundreds of other travelers trying to get a passport.
Although the signage states the wait time is usually about 20 minutes for an interview, I waited nearly an hour before I was seen. I’m sure the wait time fluctuates depending on how many appointments are scheduled that day. But considering there are people from all over attempting to secure a passport, I wouldn’t be surprised if hour-long waits are the norm for this process. Bring a book to read or download a few games to your phone to occupy yourself while waiting for your turn.
5. Make Sure You Have All Your Paperwork
One of the most important aspects of the same-day passport process is making sure you have all of the documents you need to get the passport. The things you’ll need to get the passport are:
- A filled-out DS-11 form
- Proof of US citizenship like a birth certificate
- A photocopy of your proof of US citizenship
- A current ID
- A photocopy of your ID
- A photo
- Proof of upcoming international travel within 14 days
You’ll find the DS-11 form on the US Department of State website and they even allow you to fill the form out online so it prints with all your information. I noticed when printing that the form is a bit longer than standard-size printer paper, so you may have to adjust your printer settings if the form cuts off at the bottom. It will not be accepted at the agency if parts of the form aren’t visible.
For proof of citizenship, I used my birth certificate but other documents are accepted if you don’t have one. When photocopying your documents and ID, remember you must have copies of the front and the back. I didn’t realize this and found myself driving around at midnight the night before my appointment searching for a copy machine.
As far as the photo goes, you’ll need two copies of the exact same image (even though the website says you only need one) and there are a ton of requirements that must be followed when taking the picture. Although you could try taking your own photo at home, I recommend just going to a pharmacy with a photo center like Walgreens. They’ll take the photo for you, ensure it’s the correct size and background and provide you with two copies. The passport photo cost $17.
Lastly, make sure you have enough money to cover your fees and a printed itinerary showing your upcoming international travel. As far as fees go, you’ll be paying an extra $60 for getting the passport expedited. So in total, I paid $225 to get the passport the same day.
Don’t wait until the last minute to start getting your documents ready. You never know what could happen that would prevent you from getting what you need so give yourself enough time to do so. One of the biggest reasons people miss their passport appointment is because they didn’t have the proper documentation so be sure everything is organized because there may not be enough time to reschedule before your trip.
6. No Headphones Allowed
I am one of those millennials who can’t do anything without listening to music so waiting for my passport was no exception. As I said, I waited in the ticket line for over an hour to check in, so of course I whipped out my Airpods to listen to some tunes while I waited.
Security shut that down real quick.
No headphones are allowed in the US Passport Agencies when waiting for a same-day passport. Yes, you heard that correctly. No headphones allowed.
This was offputting to me considering that I had to wait so long. There were babies screaming and running around the office and a little bit of music relief would’ve put me in a better mood and helped the time pass faster. Oh, and drown out the sound of the screaming children.
But for whatever reason, security said headphones were not allowed during any part of the passport process. I’m not sure why this is a rule but I assumed it’s because travelers have missed their ticket number being called due to their headphones being too loud. Either way, don’t expect to jam your favorite tunes while waiting to get your passport. Be sure to bring something to read, a crossword puzzle, or something else to occupy your time while you’re waiting.
7. Explore the City While Your Passport is Processed
Once your ticket number is called, you will go up to the window for your passport interview. The officer will review your documents, ask you to swear to a few questions, and let you know when you’ll be receiving your passport. Thankfully, mine was issued that same day and the officer gave me a receipt to pick it up later that afternoon during a two-hour pick-up window.
This caught me a bit off guard because I thought once my ticket was called, my documents would be processed and I would receive the passport right then. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, I spent the next few hours exploring Chicago with my best friend. We went to Harold’s Chicken and got pedicures at a spa to pass the time.
Research the area surrounding the agency you’re visiting to see what’s nearby that you could visit while you wait. Coffee shops, parks, and restaurants are great places to chill until it’s time to pick up your passport.
Also, don’t venture too far from the agency. All the places we visited while we were waiting were within 15 minutes from where I would pick up the passport. You don’t want to drive too far out and risk not getting back to the office in time to pick up.
8. Get Ready to Wait Again
If you thought the wait was over once you complete your passport interview, you are dead wrong. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I completely unestimated this process and just knew I would be able to waltz into the agency, grab my passport and walk right out. But once again, I was wrong.
Upon arriving back at the office, I found myself waiting again for another hour. Each traveler was issued a number and we had to wait to be called to retrieve our passports from the window. The room was literally packed wall to wall and I honestly felt like there were even more people waiting than earlier that morning. But I took my seat and waited my turn, playing Trivia Crack to make time go by faster.
When I got my ticket, based on numbers, there were over 100 people ahead of me so I just knew I would be waiting forever. A few people made the mistake of leaving out of the office because they were so far behind in the line. However, that is the last thing you want to do if you want to secure your passport on the same day.
9. They Do Not Call Ticket Numbers In Order
Depending on when your number is called, it could be a blessing or a curse that the passport agency doesn’t call the ticket numbers in order. I’m sure that there was a method to this madness but when my number was called, there was a lady sitting next to me who had been waiting double the amount of time I had been whose number still hadn’t been called.
This is the reason you should not leave the agency once you receive your ticket number even if there are a ton of numbers ahead of you. You really never know when your number will be called so just be patient and wait your turn. There are also electronic signs posting which number should go to each window so if you don’t hear your number called you can always check the signs to see when it’s your turn.
I also noticed there were a lot fewer windows open to distribute passports than earlier that morning during the interview process, which explained the long wait times. Also, be sure to hold on to the receipt they give you after the passport interview because they won’t even let you back into the agency without it.
10. Keep Calm
After my number was called, I went up to the window and the officer handed me an envelope with my passport as well as the documents I’d submitted earlier that morning. Although it was a stressful and long day, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment after getting my passport. I had many people doubt me and say I wouldn’t be able to get my passport before my trip, but I proved them all wrong and was successful in the end.
The most important thing to remember when getting a same-day passport is to keep calm. Don’t allow yourself to stress or let anxiety get the best of you. Through every step of the process, I remained level-headed and reminded myself that everything would work out. And if you follow these tips, it will all work out for you too.