You didn’t lose your passport, but it’s damaged beyond use, and you’ve got another trip coming up within days. Disaster? Not at all. The State Department has your back.
I, IBIT, am guilty of a federal crime.
Not an offense in the unblinking cycloptic eye of the US Code. It won’t put me up there in the pantheon of federal felons with the likes of Al Capone, Chapo Guzman or John Gotti. If anything, it’s an offense against common sense.
My crime: passport laundering.
Lightweight convertible cargo pants that feature a plethora of pockets are great for travel. They let you stow a lot of stuff, are easily stowed themselves in a suitcase or backpack, and are super-easy to launder.
Provided, of course, that you remember to go through all of those pockets before tossing them in the sink — or in my case, the washer and dryer.
I didn’t. Result: I am now the owner of a large blue, multi-page potato chip.
The curled pages by themselves would be bad enough, a signal to every immigration officer at every international airport that the foreigner standing before them may not be the brightest bulb in the box. But that it happened now as opposed to, say, 1986, makes it worse.
Nowadays, all US passports come with scannable RFID chips — highly miniaturized, short-range radio frequency transmitters storing your personal data — built into them. Subject your passport to the Maytag treatment and you kill not only that little blue magic booklet, but the chip embedded therein.
Which means you can never use that passport again — except perhaps as part of a modern art exhibit.
If you treasure the visa stamps you collect over the years, this exercise in felony forgetfulness pains you like wearing shoes three sizes too small. Still, it’s not the end of your world as a traveler. All you have to do is apply for a replacement, in basically the same way you applied for the original.
UNLESS…you’ve got another trip going up in two weeks or less, in which case, the normal passport renewal process will be too slow and too late.
Enter the US Passport Agency, an arm of the US State Department. You’ll find them scattered around the United States — and if you’ve got one within driving range of where you live, your luck just took a victory lap.
You’ll need evidence of an urgent need for their services, like an airline, cruise ship, train or hotel reservation. The rest is pro forma — driver’s license or other photo ID, a new passport photo, and your checkbook or credit card to pay for your new passport.
“Wait, don’t I need my birth certificate?” you’re asking. As long as you haven’t destroyed the evidence of your absent-mindedness, the answer is no. Just bring your damaged — or as in my case, drowned — passport, along with the other stuff listed above, and you’re good.
Now you’re ready to call the automated phone number to make an appointment at the nearest Passport Agency — and here’s where it gets really good: Be ready to be granted an appointment the same day. Arrive with documents in hand, and you’ll be ushered through security to wait your turn to be called. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Hand over your documents. Take an oath to the accuracy and honesty thereof. Pay the fee. In return, you’ll be given a receipt for your new passport and told to come back in two days.
No FedEx, no UPS, no Postal Service. Come back two days later at the appointed time and give them your receipt. They hand you back a sky-blue envelope contained your blue tortilla chip, the travel itinerary that you gave them…and a shiny new passport with a brand-new number.
Once again, the whole world is your oyster po’boy.
What if disaster befalls your passport overseas? Are there US Passport Agencies in foreign countries?
No, but that, dear IBIT reader, is what US embassies and consulates are for. You may have forms to fill out and some lengthy waits, but once they’ve satisfied themselves that you are who you say you are, they will hook you up with an emergency passport.
Stuff happens. Bad things happen to good passports. But it doesn’t have to destroy your trip in mid-stay or abruptly cancel your next one. Not as long as you know where to go and who to see.
As for my blue potato chip, it will have its own place of (dis)honor on my desk, along with the mug in which I keep my leftover pesos, euros, Canadian loonies and Gambian dalasis, to forever remind me of the importance of attention to detail.
And to pants pockets.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.