Times have changed. How we obtained information has changed. I have a trip planned with my best friend/sister’s birthday in the middle of August. We booked the airline, rental car and first night’s B&B. Excited is an understatement. She sent in for her passport approximately 12 weeks ahead of time when she realized that her passport was missing. The State Department’s website quoted a 12 week wait. She was relieved that she would get it in time.
At the end of July, she began to check the site so that she could anticipate the arrival of her passport. “Still in process” was her only feedback. She called only to find out that it would be closer to 18 weeks and to call at the end of the week to get an appointment for the Philadelphia office for an expedited passport. She also paid for an expedited passport so that the State Department would send it sooner, which was completed via email even though updates are not processed through email due to privacy issues. The appointment needed to be within 72 hours of travel and appointments are nontransferable as per State Department guideline.s No appointments are made online since there were people making appointments and selling them to others who were desperate to obtain their passports.
We sat on the phone with the State Department to make an appointment. I called the Spanish-speaking line since I am fluent and she called the other line. The deal was that neither one of us would hang up until the other one completed a phone call. She was able to get through after 2 hours on hold and at the end of the conversation, she found out that she needed to bring with her another completed application, a certified birth certificate, a new set of passport and her driver’s license. The only copy of her certified birth certificate is in the hand of the State Department along with the original application and pictures. She has no other copies.
We looked online so that she could quickly get a certified copy of her birth certificate. We found a website that would overnight the birth certificate, however, it was a two week waiting period prior to that. The document would arrive in the middle of our trip. I did a search of walk-in vital records offices is in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are only five in the whole state and they are in Harrisburg, Erie, Scranton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New Castle. We were able to get through to the Philadelphia office and found out that they are a walk-in where she would be able to get her documents there. She was told that she might have to wait to pick it up until the next day, if they are busy. Plans were made for her to go this coming Monday morning for two copies birth certificate (lesson learned). She would have it in hand for her appointment for her expedited passport which is on the day we leave. Luckily, Philadelphia has a passport office that produced a passport book on premises.
The moral of the story is make sure you have extra copies of important papers. I have them scanned into an email file titled “Important Papers” with sub files named after each family member. This helps in case something needs to be sent out or if you are out of the country and your documents were lost or stolen. I also have the hard copies in an accordion file. Allow time to order and receive documents and know what your state and local guidelines are for obtaining vital records and other important documents. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all vital records are handled by the Commonwealth. This change occurred in the early 2000’s and unless you need a copy, you might not know about the change. Keep an eye on wait times, too.