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Much ado about passport fees

Opinion: A day late and $35 short — that’s the cost of not renewing your passport in a timely manner. Higher fees take effect today, and travelers are incensed. Deal with it, people. By Rob Lovitt

A day late and $35 short.

After months of procrastination, it seems that’s the cost of not renewing my passport in a timely manner. Fees for just about every passport-processing procedure are going up today and if you’ve snoozed, you’ll likely lose the next time you turn in your paperwork.

Applying for your first passport? If you’re 16 or older, it’ll run you $135, up from $100. Fifteen or younger? It’ll cost an extra $20, or $105. Renewals, meanwhile, are now $110, up from $75, while passport cards, the less-expensive documents designed for land and sea crossings between the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, will cost an extra $10 for adults and $5 for minors.

The new fees are based on a Cost of Service Study the government conducted in 2009 to determine the actual cost of providing passport services. According to the State Department, those costs include not just the physical production of passport books — which, by the way, run about $16 a pop — but also the costs involved in implementing new technology, operating expanded processing facilities and providing aid and emergency services to U.S. citizens overseas.

On the other hand, according to most of the people who commented on the new rules, when they were proposed this spring, that’s a lot of hogwash. Of the 1,797 comments the government received, nearly 99 percent opposed the increase, citing everything from the lousy economy to the impact on cross-border commerce to bald-faced government greed.

As for the rest, 22 commenters actually supported the plan.

New fees are nothing new
Personally, I think the majority of regular travelers will give the news a collective shrug. Yeah, the higher fees bite — c’mon, what fee increase doesn’t? — but most will consider it yet another rising cost of doing business (or pleasure), along with higher airfares, admission fees and restaurant prices. And while some of the other increases listed in the rules are genuinely shocking (e.g., from $0 to $82 for extra visa pages), $35 for something that lasts for 10 years can hardly be considered a deal breaker.

Nevertheless, the objections recall the hue and cry over the new passport requirements mandated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and implemented last year. That rule, you’ll remember, required U.S. citizens to have passports (or passport-equivalent documents) for travel to and from select countries where a driver’s license or birth certificate had previously sufficed.

For some, those wholly new costs ($45 for a passport card, $97 for a passport) could be considered genuinely prohibitive, and there’s no escaping the fact that the new requirements made life in travel-dependent border communities even tougher. But for others, it all boiled down to government greed, black helicopters on the border and claims of “I’m an American, why the hell should I need a passport?”

This time — at least according to a random sampling of the comments — there seems to be less anti-gubmint invective. There are, however, several comments from travel companies suggesting that the higher fees will be a deterrent to their business. Maybe so, but when United Airlines complains that excessive fees will harm their business, you have to wonder what they’ve been smoking. Heaven knows it couldn’t be the baggage fees, summer surcharges and generally rising price of flying that are turning people off.

All of which is to say that I don’t buy the argument that higher passport fees will deter that many people from traveling. Business travelers will consider it another cost of doing business; leisure travelers will budget accordingly, and those who simply love to travel will focus, not on the cost, but on what they get for their money.

Cost vs. value
I was reminded of that recently as I flipped through one of my expired passports, a stamp-filled document that coincided with a former job as an editor for a trade magazine for the seafood industry. As part of my work, I traveled to Chile, New Zealand, Norway and dozens of other seafood-producing countries. (Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in-country touring fishing boats and processing plants, but that’s another story.)

The travel was often grueling (and exceedingly fragrant), but 10 years later, those passport stamps serve as visual reminders of experiences I wouldn’t have had any other way. (And, no, the company didn’t pay for my passport.) If similar experiences now cost an extra $3.50 a year, I can live with it.

Of course, that’s just me. You, as I suspect subsequent correspondence will demonstrate, may feel differently. If so, you still have options. You can limit your travel to domestic destinations or opt for a less-expensive passport card for (non-air) travel within the parameters of WHTI. And if you’re really angry about all this and feel it’s just another intrusion by a meddling government that’s ruining the country, you can renounce your citizenship altogether.

Alas, that’ll cost you $450.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, .