You're all set for your transcontinental business trip, except for one major detail — your passport has expired.
If you can't afford to wait three weeks for the U.S. Department of State's expedited processing service, you're in luck. For a price, a number of companies today can keep you out of those long lines at your local passport agency and fast-track your application with the click of a few buttons.
While the State Department will approve about 17 million passports this year, fewer than 6 percent of them can be expedited directly through the government and third party services, according to Jeffrey Fine, CEO of travel document specialist and expediting service CIBT.
But the demand for fast passport services is only expected to grow, particularly in light of recent changes in government requirements. Since January, all U.S. citizens travelling to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean by air have had to present passports. The rule will extend to land and sea travel in January 2008. With only 25 percent of Americans currently holding passports and the State Department's workload piling up, the wait for new passports and renewals could get longer, Fine said.
Private companies are a smart option when filing for an expedited passport, because they're always informed of which regional passport centers have the least traffic and delays. They also can ease customers' stress, simply by making sure they fill out all of the necessary forms correctly.
"There's a lot of regulation, a lot of requirements and a lot of paperwork," says Adam Boalt, managing partner of Expedited Travel, which operates rushmypassport.com and prioritypassports.com. "It's a complicated process for any person to understand."
What to look for
As you search for a service, experts say there are several things to keep in mind. The first things you should ask are when you are going to get your passport back and whether the service is guaranteed, Fine said. Prices also should be clearly stated on the company's Web site — and it's worth confirming that the contact information on the site is up to date, so you can reach someone immediately if a problem or concern arises.
Make sure to check that the company you choose has extensive security and privacy systems, such as Better Business Bureau certification and privacy guarantees. After all, they're not only handling your credit card number, but also all your sensitive identification details.
Though the services can get expensive, with prices up to $400 for same-day processing, the cost of filing on your own could be much steeper.
"If you're taking a trip that's costing several thousand dollars or more, it's a small price to pay to make sure you don't miss [it]," said Fine. "You're paying for the peace of mind."