Dear fellow parent(s) -
This is a post, nay, an obligation to pass along valuable info so don't have to deal with the logistical hassle and pain that me and my family - and hundreds others - had to endure. Lord knows the Government website isn't going to tell you any of this or provide any sort of expectation, so instead I will. Tell your friends.
Are you a parent that has a child with a passport? Yes... Ok then. Let's begin.
Things have changed radically
More specifically they changed in January 2016 - no this is not a result of the new administration. 5 years ago when we originally got our daughter needed a new passport we just brought the requisite paperwork, check and photo to our local postoffice - done in like 8 minutes.
Remember, both parents have to be present and bring proof of USA citizenship or their own passport to apply / renew for their child and children cannot renew by mail until their are 16. Not knowing any different, we went to our local USPS to learn that they no longer do passports and we need to go to a different location. Ok. Fine. We got back in the car and sat in traffic to the recommended location only to find out they do not do passports and we need to go to a different location.
Centralized passport services
Turns out that instead of every USPS location accepting passport applications every city and region in the USA centralized their approach. Which meant for Sacramento region, we only had 3 options.
This changes everything
I'm going to spare you the long exasperating details, but we, as a family carving out time spent 3 separate days learning the roads and waiting in all day lines to arrive at this. Remember, both you and your spouse have to be there, so it really becomes a logistical nightmare, especially with young kids - ours happened to have a fever, so we got extra points or something.
They centralized but did not bulk-up their staff - at all. Which means huge lines forming daily at 7 am like a new iPhone is coming out. A line of nearly 200 people daily and they have two... yes two people managing this.
It takes 15-30 min / appointment so if you show up and see a big line, you do the math.
What to expect and how to do it (hint - best case, it takes ALL day)
- Find a location & be prepared - Seriously, do your homework and apply some common sense. Find your local USPS office that is now doing passports. Depending on where you live, it might be faster to drive 3 hours to a region that is less populated. I spent 2 wasted days NOT getting a number.
- Get a number - I can't stress this enough. You can't be seen until you have a number. Most offices open at 10:30 am. Bu the line just to get a number, for the day begins around 7 or 8 am. You wait in line until they open the door and they begin to process those in line and proceed to give you a number. Once you have a number, you are not even close to a guarantee to be seen that day. I was in line for 3 hours, to get number 65. Which in the end was half of what the day's list looked like.
- Come back - Once you actually have a number, then you are in business. But not yet. They said, "ok here is your number, and try to come back in 3 hours". I came back before then to find out they were 2 hours behind. So us originally being about half way on the days list, it turns out that we were probably closer to 90% of what they would see for the day. Which means the remainder of number-holders would be bumped to the next day.
Don't want to wait in lines?
Then get your shit together. This is NOT the only way to renew / apply for your kids' passport. My son's passport is up for renewal in two years and I'll be damned to do this again. You can do all of this, by appointment only, through most city halls and some county libraries. But, from what I understand, most USA locations are booked 3-6 months out. Given that children under 16 passports are only valid for 5 years, my advice is to chop off a year and begin to renew in year 4. Keep in mind that these locations are not "full service", meaning that they don't do the photo and payments.
If you have international travel plans... get on it!!!
There is a way for only one parent to be at this meeting but from what I understand it requires a few layers of notary and slows down actual (when the application arrives at the Federal facility) process by a factor of months.
After waiting in all of these lines and doing a lot of unofficial interviewing, it seems that this glut is occupied by an overwhelming numbers off families - by nature of not being able to renew online.
Like I said above it really demands the whole family to make this happen. Meaning that everyone must stop (life, work, obligations) to renew a child's passport. I saw whole first generation extended family networks parking at the USPS sites to make this happen; a community effort to get a passport. Standing in line I imagined their collective lost wages while I was standing in line representing my family, a phone call away when we'd be on deck.