If you’ve got your trip all planned out and suddenly realize at the last minute that you need a passport or that yours has expired, all hope is not lost. It is possible to jump the line, so to speak, and get special expedited processing for your passport application in both the United States and Canada.
To apply for, or renew a U.S. passport you should first visit the Department of State website where you can submit an online application. Below is the current turn-around time for new passports and renewals.
|Routine||6 to 9 weeks|
|Expedited||3 to 5 weeks|
|Expedited at Agency||Must have international travel within 14 calendar days|
Source: U.S. Department of State
As you can see, the standard processing times for U.S. passport applications is anywhere from a few weeks to well over a month, depending on how busy the State Department is at any given time. If this time frame is not going to work you have two options – you can use the State Department’s own expedited services, or you can go to a registered passport expediting company. Both options will cost additional fees in addition to the standard passport fees.
There are two ways to get an expedited passport through the State Department:
Getting an Expedited Passport by Mail
This option will typically take about two weeks if you can provide proof of urgent need, and up to four weeks otherwise. You must write “EXPEDITE” clearly on the outside of the envelope you send your renewal form in. While you can send your application in overnight mail, the government can only send the passport back via first class. As with any passport application, it is strongly recommended that you send your forms through a secure method, with tracking. For complete instructions visit the State Department web page Get a Passport in a Hurry.
You should also note that there are restrictions on applying for a passport by mail. You MUST GO IN PERSON to an passport agency if you are a first time applicant, are under 16, or you are renewing your passport for the first time in over 15 years. Make sure to check that you are eligible for mail renewal before applying.
One other little known tip – most congressional offices have someone in their office who may be able to help in emergency cases.
Applying in Person for an Expedited Passport
There are U.S. government passport agencies scattered around the country that will handle an expedited passport in person. By applying in person you can get your passport in less than two weeks, and potentially even the same day. Typical reasons for issuing a passport immediately are “life and death situations” or travel within 5 days. Here are a few points to remember:
- Appointments are required. You will need to call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 to schedule and appointment. They are available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.
- Most agencies will require proof (e.g., a printed plane ticket) that you need to travel in two weeks or less. There are a few agencies may not require proof but you need to check with them directly to confirm that.
- You will need to travel to the passport agency to make your application – and then back again to pick up the finished passport.
- Be very careful to bring all of the required documents to your appointment.
Applying for an expedited passport by mail or in person is the least expensive way to go. However, if you are concerned about how quickly it will arrive, don’t want to hassle with the paperwork, or cannot easily travel to one of of the passport agencies, you may want to consider using a private passport expediter.
Private Passport Expediting Services
Third-party companies can register with the State Department to provide fast passport processing services. There are several advantages to using one of these companies:
- They can be faster than the government’s expediting services. You should be able to get your passport in as little as 24 hours if you are willing to pay for it.
- No Travel. You can frequently do this over the web, by mail, or with a local office so you don’t need to go into a distant government passport agency.
- They should check your work for you. Immigration officials do not look over your paperwork to ensure that everything is in order. Make sure your expediting company will.
- They can be especially useful if you also need a visa for the country you are travelling to as they can get both the passport and the visa.
So what is the downside to using a passport expediter?
- You will pay more. The faster you want your passport, the more you’re going to have to pay. You may have to spend as much as an additional $400 on fees and shipping – on top of the standard fees associated with a passport application.
- Not all passport expediters live up to their promises. Some can be unreliable and you may not get your passport back within the guaranteed time-frame.
Tips for using a U.S. passport expediter:
- There is no list of government approved passport expediting companies that we have been able to find. However, you will easily come up with a lot of choices if you do a web search for “U.S. passport expediter.”
- Check out the company. Some are large multi-national corporations with lots of offices. Others are “virtual” companies working out of the home. Either may be able to do the job if they are competent, but look for references online or get them from the company. Also, make sure to ask if they are registered with the Department of State.
- If you need your passport very quickly you may need to call several companies to find one that can help you. Expediters are allotted a limited number of rushed passports per day so you need to make sure they can get the passport in time for your departure date. For example, only three same-day applications are allowed from each expediter per day at the Chicago Passport Agency. You may do better with a company with locations around the country as they are likely registered with several Passport Agency offices and thus have more allotments.
- Understand that you are still going to be doing a lot of tasks to give an expediter what they need. You must gather important ID material like a birth certificate or an expired passport, fill out the paperwork, get your passport pictures, and perhaps go to a local processing center (typically, a post office or courthouse) to have everything vetted and placed in a sealed envelope to be sent to the expediter.
- Get a clear understanding of how they will communicate with you about each step of the process.
- Contact the company you choose early in the day and find out if your passport will be one of the next ones submitted. If they use up their allotment in one day your passport won’t go in until the next available day.
- Ask what they do with your information once they have performed their services. You have given them a lot of very personal information. They should lock it up when not in use and shred it after they are done with it.
The lead time for getting a passport in Canada is actually pretty short when compared to the U.S. but you have to realize that the times can vary based on the volume of requests they are handling. In addition, if you make a mistake on the application, or the government decides it needs to do a more in-depth background check on you, issuance of the passport could be delayed.
The expected processing time for passport applications submitted in Canada is:
- In person at a passport office (Service Canada Centre – Passport Services) – 10 business days
- By mail or in person at a Service Canada Centre – 20 business days
This does not include mailing time.
You can contact the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) directly for more information on obtaining or updating a passport by email or phone.
Important Points for Getting an Expedited Passport in Canada
- It is mandatory that you go in person to a Passport Canada office to submit the application. However, the new passport may be picked up by a third party if they provide written consent from the applicant, as well as valid identification.
- You will need to provide proof that you have made your travel plans and that they happen in short order. You will need to bring your airline, bus or train ticket; a travel itinerary showing proof of payment.
- If you are traveling by car, you will need to prepare a written statement explaining why you need to make this trip. The passport agent has complete discretion to decide if you need a passport urgently.
- Unlike the U.S., Canada does not permit third party companies to acquire passports so using the expedited process of the Passport Canada is your only option.
- To get the full details on how to apply for an expedited passport please visit Passport Canada
If the standard lead times present a problem, you can pay an additional fee to get expedited service. The fees for expediting your passport are based on how quickly you need it: