Under normal circumsances passports are a reasonably priced form of identification but times are changing. Normal circumstances are few and far between these days. At least that’s what my experience has shown.
The entire fiasco started over a year ago when on a family vacation to Hawaii. While visiting family and connecting to the Hilo Airport our waist pouch containing our identification dissappeared. A big deal you might think, but I really had no idea how big of a deal it really was.
We didn’t realize our id was missing right away. Included in our id pouch were two passports for the adults, a citizenship card for our oldest daughter born in the United States and four boys’ Canadian birth certificates. When travelling with 5 children we tend to count the number of kids more often than the number of bags we are towing. After all its better to loose a bag than a child. It wasn’t until a few days later and only 2 days before our scheduled trip home, that we realized we may have a difficult time crossing back into Canada.
It started out fairly simply with a phone call to the Canadian consulate in Honolulu who advised us to make a police report. They also advised that they could not replace our Passports unless we changed our flights home to leave a day or two later. This was not an option either, at least not the $200 x 7 people change fee. We were a bit concerned however but did file our police report. I had a birth certificate and drivers licence in my wallet so I had backup ID to get me home. The problem was going to be for my wife and children. Fortunately we had made photocopies of our lost passports. It was a good reminder for us to never leave home without at least two photocopies of our passports placed strategically in separate bags. This is a tip we have followed after many years of selling travel through our travel company and hearing reports on people trips.
Armed with our police report indicating the names of our five children and photocopies of our lost passports we embarked on our trip home and prayed for an understanding customs official. To our surprise clearing Canadian customs with these documents was fairly straight forward and we were quickly waved through at our home airport. Perhaps it isn’t every day that a family of 7 looses all of its identification, at least that is what I would hope.
Well a year went by. Since we had just taken a family trip we saw no rush to replace our Passports or other id (big mistake). True to our family’s nature we came up with the brilliant idea shortly after Christmas, that it was time to take a real family adventure. Little did we know that the family adventure was only about to begin. We decided that the first week of February would be a good time to take a long awaited trip to that Tahitian Islands. After carefully looking through our finances we took stock on what we would need to bring with us on our vacation.
With news of the impending changes on travel requirements for anyone flying into or through the United States we quickly realized that this was the first thing we needed to do. We would have to go to PLAN A and obtain passports for everyone in the family, pronto! We went to the place in our home where we store all of our family’s id and frantically looked through the folder to see what we needed. Yikes! We had birth certificates for everyone but… we were missing my daughter’s Canadian Citizenship Card. We researched online to see what was required to have it replaced. Her US birth certificate would not be sufficient to get a Canadian Passport.
To our dissappointment we quickly discovered what most Canadian Immigrants must go through. The citizenship card would take from 3 to 5 months to be replaced. Not a very good turnaround time if you are planning a trip in the near future. As a result we decided we would have to go to PLAN B.
Since our daughter was born in the United States we would get her a US Passport. We had obtained one for her when she was 4 months old and we would have to do it again. Once again the internet proved to be an invaluable resource although not leaving us completely with no questions. We needed to find the most economical and convenient way to get a passport for her. Our options were to go to the US Consulate in Vancouver (a 4 hour one way trip from Victoria) or travel to the United States ourselves. It either scenario we would have to make a second trip pick up the passport once processed. Passports in the United States officially take about 6-8 weeks but we were in a bit of a hurry so we would need to pay for the two week rush fee.
We called the US Consulate in Vancouver only to be given the automated message service and a few abrupt transfers from the receptionist to other automated messages. After getting an idea what it would be like if we went there to get the passport we decided to call the two locations that processed passport applications in Port Angeles, Washington (a 1.5 hour ferry ride from downtown Victoria). By going to Port Angeles we could walk onto the ferry (and save about $80 roundtrip) and then walk to wherever we needed in the town. We first called the City Hall location listed on the US government passport website. They were less than helpful. Seemed like they knew what they were doing but lacked the human component to the passport application process. So we tried our luck by calling the Port Angeles post office. What a difference that made. After explaining our predicament to the person there who has been processing passports for years, we had more information and knowledge on what we needed to do and how we needed to do it. As a result of this experience we knew that this was going to be a passport application experience with not only knowlege as our companion but also a little old fashioned human compassion. This would be our best PLAN B.
The first week of January 2007 we spent 12 to 15 hours filling out passport applications, obtaining 7 sets of passport photos (which have different requirements depeding on if they are for US or Canadian passports), notorized letters confirming our old passports were lost and having a guarantor sign all of our photos and applications. With a typical processing time of 10 days when applying in person we knew we would have to get our passports processed quickly. January 6th was the day we were applying for our Canadian passports. I had heard reports that lineups were a bit long so I decided that I would get up a bit early and arrive at the passport office 45 minutes early to beat the rush. I think every other person had the same idea because by the time I arrived there was already an estimated 5 hour line up.
After seeing the camera crews from the local TV station and people sitting on the sidewalk lined up down the block with their camping chairs I decided that perhaps the 21 day mailed in application would be the best bet. I dropped off applications for duplicate birth certificates for me and my sons at the BC vital statistics office (nervous that my only copies were going in the mail) before heading back to my office. I bought an expresspost envelope and happily sent my Canadian passport applications off in the mail.
The following week I set aside a day to take the roundtrip journey to Port Angeles, Washington. We made reservations with John at the Port Angeles post office, the helpful person we had spoken to the week earlier. Passports at this location are only processed when an appointment is made in advance. In the United States both parents must be present when apply for a under 14 year old child’s passport.
The night before the ferry trip we realized we had a small problem. In our hast to apply for our Canadian passports, my wife had sent off her last Birth Certificate with her passport application. She would not make it through US customs without a proof of her citizenship! Looking online we found a form we could have notorized authorizing me to apply for my daughter’s US passport without her. That morning we rushed off to notorize the letter prior to us catching the 10:30 am Coho Ferry to Port Angeles. Fortunately there were two ferries on this day due to the US holiday long weekend so we could avoid an overnight stay in Port Angeles. The $57 round-trip ferry went fairly smoothly and the post office was only a 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal.
John the “passport guy” was helpful and took the time to make sure our paperwork was filled out correctly. In fact he did notice an error and patiently waited while I filled out a new application form. This made all the difference in giving us the peace of mind that the process would run smoothly. It was at this moment however that I realized we were going to have to return to Canada without my daughter’s birth certificate. Her only copy had to be submitted with her passport application and so we quickly made a copy for the Canadian Customs officer we would meet upon re-entering Canada. I was at this point I made sure to order her 3 more birth certificates that same week ($20). After submitting the passport application ($60) and paying for the processing ($30) and express roundtrip mailing fee ($60) we headed back for the 2 pm Coho Ferry and had 20 minutes to spare before the last ferry back to Victoria. We finally had all our passports “in the system” and on their way. . . or so we thought.
Having our passports well in process we decided to finalize our flight plans but delayed them two weeks so that we would not be rushed. Our new departure date was confirmed as February 20th, plenty of time to get everything done. The last week of January I received a phone call advising us that the US passport had arrived and was ready for us to pick up (John had told us not to have it shipped to Canada as he has seen passports delayed for up to 5 weeks by Canada Customs). We had to wait another week to pick it up before the ferry schedule would make it possible to go and come back in the same day.
I did start getting a bit concerned however as February 2nd approached. It was over 3 weeks from the time we had mailed off our Canadian passports. What really concerned me however was the fact that on our passport applications I had written down that our departure date from Canada was to be February 2nd. I went online and filled out a passport status request on the Canadian Passport website. I did not hear back for over a week. I even went online to check my credit card statment in hopes of seeing the charges for my passport application, but there was no such charge. In the meantime my wife and I decided to call the Canadian passport office on February 6th to find out where our passports were. When we first called and made it through their phone maze it transferred us to a line advising that all representatives were busy and to try calling later. No kidding!
Throughout the day we made about 4 more calls where we did get through to speak to somone. It was at this point we discovered we were going to need to have a PLAN C. The first person advised us that they were processing applications from December 20th and would not get to ours which they received on January 9th until after we were scheduled to leave on our vacation. The passport office does not even open applications until they start processing them. This means that they would not even see our anticipated departure date on the application until just before they process the application. They further advised us that it would be best to fill out all of our paperwork again and submit it in person in Victoria. The thought of spending 8 or more hours filling out forms, getting passport photos and a guarantor to sign our application was not appealing. We called back, waiting on hold for an hour and finally asked if we could give the envelope tracking number and have our application sent back to us. After some convincing the representative told us if we gave her a Fedex account number right then, she would see if she could have it located and sent back to us. Unfortunately we did not have that account number and had to make a phone call to get it. We then had to call back with our courier number. We were advised by this new representative that they would put an urgent request on our file but due to the volumes of passport applications there was no way they could guarantee how long this would take.
We nervously waited until that Friday the 9th of February before calling Fedex to see if they had a delivery on its way to us. They confirmed that no, there was nothing on its way. I also received a phone call on this day from the passport office asking about my passport application status enquiry that I had submitted online over a week earlier. I was told that they were only working on December 21st applications and so mine was not even registered in their system yet. Looking at the numbers, from Tuesday to Friday of that week, the passport office had only process one more day’s worth of passports. I don’t know how they will keep up by the time they get to the January applications that were coming in at a rate of 21 to 23 thousand applications per day!
That night my wife and I spent until 2 am filling out new passport applications for everyone nervous that we were needing to follow through with PLAN C. We also had to apply for some rush birth certificates ($60) as our originals waiting in limbo with our original passport applications. It was while filling out passport applications yet again that I discovered the convenient Canadian online passport application. Although the passports are not processed entirely online, it allowed us to fill out the proper documents, ensure that we did not miss any required information and created an electronic file that would make it easier for the passport office to process our request. This online process only makes sense as opposed to having a passport representative type in all the information from the hand written application forms. It can also help prevent typo errors. The online applicatoin forms can be printed out in an already filled out format, ready to be signed by the applicant and guarantor and brought in with passport photos to the passport office. The printout contains a barcode that helps identify the applicant. Although Canadian child passport applications cannot be filled out online yet, anyone with at least one online application can bypass the “regular” lineup at the passport office and go to the electronic application window. They say this is much quicker.
While my wife was getting passport photos and a new guarantor to sign our passport application (Our old guarantor was out of the country for the next month on holidays. Please note that the Canadian passport office does phone guarantors and personal references, especially when applying for Rush Passports. Make sure to provide an alternate cell phone number to avoid having your application stalled), I made a day trip back to Port Angeles to pick up my daughter’s passport. This was probably the most relaxing 5 hours of our passport acquiring adventure. A smooth ride there, a quick walk to the post office and a smooth ride back. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Too bad I had better things to do.
After stopping by the Victoria passport office to scout things out on Feb 12, 2007 I found out that I needed to be early in order to even make it into the passport office. I woke up early thinking I would be one of the first people in line. When I arrived at 4:40 am (almost 4 hour prior to when the passport office opens) there were already 74 people ahead of me in line. The wait was a long one and it was a bit cool but fortunately it was not raining. Fortunately I had brought my daughter to keep me company as well as some comfy camping chairs. I only wished I had brought a warm blanket.
Just after 8 am one of the passport office workers came by to inspect everyone’s documentation to ensure they had everything they needed. She then handed out numbers to people in line. This saved a lot of people an additional wait for nothing if they were missing documents.
I did not make it into the passport office until around 12:30 PM. Once inside I was ushered to a booth where someone looked over my documents and issued another number. At this point there were only about a dozen people in the waiting room so things moved fairly quickly from here.
We were called up to process our passport applications and discovered that we would need proof of our travel arrangements since we were leaving within 8 days. I quickly made a phone call to have my travel details faxed directly to the Passport Office (make sure to bring a ticket printout if you are leaving soon as this is needed to rush your documents).
I was also advised that I would need to pay a $30 rush fee per passport application. When we explained that we had already submitted our passports more that 6 weeks earlier they asked if we had our courier tracking number. After another quick phone call we were able to provide the passport office with this tracking number, they verified it and promptly waived the rush fee (only charging us a $10 per person Passport Office pickup fee).
We were assured that our passports would all be ready for us 1 day prior to us leaving on our vacation. I have to say, Kath at the passport office was the most calm and patient person as we scrambled to complete everything we needed. It did take some time to process our six passport applications but it was done calmly, efficiently and with the compassion we needed after waiting in line for 8 hours since the early morning.
Tips To Note:
• Apply for US Passports in the US. They can be sent back to the Postmaster and held for you.
• Apply for Canadian Passports by processing it online. It is quicker than filling out forms and easier to make corrections.
• Ensure you provide alternate phone numbers (cell) for references and guarantors.
• Apply for your passport now if you think you will need it within the next 6 months.
• Apply for your passport in person if you need it soon. Mailed in passports are currently taking no less than 8 weeks to process.
• If you are re-applying for passports in person (after sending them in) make sure to bring your courier tracking number to save on some express processing fees.