Tips for renewing your child's passport

The Pea's current passport is set to expire next month, so we renewed her passport today. Since she is under 16, we had to renew it in person. Renewing US passports in person has always been a tedious process, but this time, somehow, it turned from tedious to almost nightmarish.

It certainly seems like the number of passport applicants has skyrocketed. If you need to apply for or renew your child's US passport (or if you need to do it for yourself, and need to do it in person), read about our experience and learn from our mistakes! Or just scroll through to the bottom and check out my tips for applying or renewing in person.

I first got a hint of how the process had changed when I read a friend's Facebook post saying she had waited in line for three hours to apply for a passport for her five year-old son. Three hours!!! All my kids are on their 3rd passports, and each time we've renewed, we've never had to wait more than thirty or forty minutes. I've never bothered to make an appointment at a passport processing center (located in select US post offices) because the walk-in line has never been more than 1 or 2 people long.

I took my friend's post as a warning sign and made an appointment. I was hoping to get an appointment during the week that The Pea was scheduled for dental surgery so she wouldn't have to miss school, but when I finally got through to a live person (after calling our local post office for several days), the appointments were booking about 4 weeks out.

The soonest appointment I could get was 9:30 am on a school day, so we decided to go to the post office with a walk-in passport processing line the day after The Pea had her dental surgery. Let's get it over with, we said. The place opens at 9:00 am, so we'll be there at 8:45 am, be first in line, and get it over and done with, we said.

How naive we were!

We got to the post office at 9:00 am and there were about 8-10 people in line ahead of us. Even with the generous assumption that a few of them were together and that each family would take 15 minutes to process, we were looking at a minimum wait time of 60-90 minutes. We decided to leave.

A week later, our school district had a local holiday, so The Pea and I decided to try again. This time, we'll get there at 8:00 am, we said. We're sure to be first in line, we said.

How naive we were!

The line was even longer -- about 20 people! It seemed like all of the parents with kids had the same idea as I did. We left that line and drove to a post office in Milpitas, 15 miles away. Maybe it's just Palo Alto, we said. Maybe we're all just Type A people who are obsessive about having current passports.  How naive we were! The line there was just as long.

On our way home from Milpitas, we decided to pass by our local post office, just to see how long the line was. Our pulses quickened when we saw that the line had dropped to about 3-4 people... only to read a sign on the door that said, "All numbers have been distributed for the day".

Oh, so that's how it works. How naive we were!

I finally decided to start talking to people. The post office employee who was double-checking the forms of the people in line said that they hand out 20 numbers each day so that people don't have to stay at the post office all day (people at the end of the line can come back later in the day). I spoke to the woman who was 11th in line, and she said that she joined the line at 6:00 am. Note, the passport processing office opens at 9:00 am! The line is worse that a Disneyland line!

We went home that day, thanking our lucky stars that we had an appointment. Today, at our appointment, there were a few people trying to make an appointment and heard the post office employee tell them that appointments were booking two months out.

Renewing a passport has never been this much of a hassle in the past. Fortunately, the next time we renew the boys' passports will be the last time we have to renew in person. And this time, we'll be ready.

Tips for renewing your child's passport

All passports for children under age 15 must be applied for (or renewed) in person, at a passport acceptance facility, which is generally located at a post office.

Hours for passport processing are usually 9:00 am - 3:00 pm on weekdays. The child must be present, so plan on your child missing school.

Generally, both parents must be present. However, if one parent cannot be present, that parent can fill out Form DS 3053 (statement of consent), sign it in the presence of a notary, and send it along with the child and the other parent. Don't forget to also send along a copy of the parent's driver's license!

Make an appointment if you can! It's the quickest and easiest way to go. Some passport acceptance facilities only accept appointments, some only accept walk-ins, and some accept both. I haven't yet found a way to make an appointment online. You have to call the facility. If the phone line is busy, keep trying. If you can't get through, you can visit the post office in person to make an appointment. Bear in mind that the soonest available appointment may be 4-8 weeks out.

If you cannot make an appointment (i.e. none of the open slots are convenient for you or you can't wait that far out), plan ahead. I would visit the walk-in facility beforehand and ask them what the process is. I've described the process at my local post office, but it may vary from place to place. Maybe the lines are shorter in other areas!

Check and double check and triple check to make sure you have all the required documents. Make sure you bring your checkbook. Not all facilities accept credit cards. The last thing you want to do is to be turned away because you forgot something and have to do it all again!

Bring snacks and something to do while waiting. Remember that all the frustration will be worth it because you'll end up with a shiny new passport for your child and you'll be able to travel the world!

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