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Is Expedited Passport Service Worth It?

If you need to cross an international border, you need a passport. Full stop. No passport, no trip. The problem is that a passport isn’t something most people can just walk into a government office and pick up. For the average American, the passport process can be expensive and prohibitively time-consuming. These two factors can quickly complicate your international travel plans.

Traditional passport applications are processed for a fee and can leave you waiting over a month before a passport is actually issued. You can pay an additional fee to have that processing time slashed in half, but a 2-3 week wait may still be too long for many travelers.

If you need a passport as quickly as possible, you will have to pay for both an expedited passport service as well as the additional government fees. Costs for these services can range from less than a hundred dollars to several hundred dollars depending on several criteria:

  • your location
  • the passport expediting company you select
  • the services you need
  • how quickly you need your passport

Before spending hundreds of dollars to rush your passport application, you want to be sure the investment is really worth it. In many cases, it is.

Ultimately, there are 3 types of situations where expedited passport service is the ideal option – and in some situations, even the most affordable one.

You have a travel crisis that does not qualify as a “Life-or-Death Emergency”

The U.S. government provides several options for getting a passport quickly. If you are facing what is considered a “life-or-death emergency,” it is possible you can get a passport in 24 hours or less by visiting a Regional Passport Agency or (if abroad) at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The problem for travelers is that the U.S. Department of State has a very narrow definition of what constitutes a “life-or-death emergency.” Simply put, unless you can prove that you must travel within 72 hours to deal with a death or medical issue in your immediate family, you won’t qualify.

What this means is that most Americans will struggle to submit a passport application entirely on their own and walk away with a passport issued on the spot.

But what about travel emergencies that aren’t necessarily life-or-death, but do require getting a passport quickly? There are all sorts of reasons why you may need a passport sooner than traditional expedited passport application can provide:

  • a last minute business trip
  • a non-life-threatening medical emergency
  • a vacation that has already been paid for
  • a spur-of-the-moment getaway
  • a family visit
  • a time-sensitive event that cannot be rescheduled
  • a death or medical emergency involving a non-immediate family member
  • discovering your passport was lost, stolen, or damaged

While these cases (and others like them) don’t qualify for rushed, “life-or-death” processing, these are all situations where a registered passport expediting service can help. Passport expeditors have experience working with Regional Passport Agencies to procure passports quickly for a much wider variety of reasons than ordinary people can on their own.

If time is a factor, a passport expediting service is definitely worth the cost. Selecting the right passport expeditor can provide you with both the peace of mind and (more importantly) the passport you need in your most dire of travel crises.

For more on the services passport expeditors can provide, check out our post “What Exactly Does a Passport Expediter Do?”

Applying for a passport on your own would cost more than using a passport expediting service

On paper, it seems like there is no way a passport expeditor could actually save you money. After all, with an expeditor, you are still paying the same application and expediting fees you would pay if you were applying for a passport yourself, but you would also have to pay the additional costs of the expediting service. So where are the savings?

The truth is, applying for a rushed passport comes with several hidden costs:

Your time

Applying for a passport and waiting for it to arrive is a huge drain on your time. Of course, in a crisis, time is the one thing you don’t have.

There is also a financial cost associated with your time. Getting a passport expedited in person requires an appointment and a trip to your nearest Regional Passport Agency. There are over two dozen of these facilities located across the United States, however they are concentrated in large metropolitan areas. Many states don’t have their own.

This means even after you’ve assembled all of your identifying documents and completed all of your forms, you will still need to dedicate time –anywhere from 8 hours to a couple of days- to carry out the logistics of the passport application process. For most Americans, this has large financial implications.

Regional agencies are only open on weekdays. This means most people will have to take time off from work to visit one. This time costs money. Whether you are using personal time off or being docked for hours you can’t work, this is a noteworthy cost many rushed passport applicants overlook.

To figure out how this time impacts you, multiply your hourly rate by the time it would take to travel to and from a Regional Passport Agency. Then add in a few extra hours for your appointment and potential delays. The resulting figure is one hidden cost you must account for.

Similarly, even if you don't have to take off work, your time is still worth something. While this time may not be as easily monetized, traveling to a Regional Passport Agency definitely costs you time you could be spending doing other things.

Transportation

Traveling to a Regional Passport Agency takes time, but it also comes with its own set of transportation costs. Whether you are fueling up and parking your car, calling an Uber, or relying on public transit, applying for a passport in person inevitably means paying to get yourself to and from your nearest agency. Depending on where you live, this could even mean a multi-day journey or a plane ride.

Be sure to include these costs when evaluating whether or not a passport expeditor is a more cost effective solution than applying on your own.

Food and beverages

How you get from home to your passport application appointment and back again is only one of several travel-related expenses you can expect to rack up if you opt to apply for a rushed passport on your own. You also need to make sure you are accounting for all the costs associated with fulfilling your basic needs while you are away.

Consider the fact that applying for expedited passport service at a regional processing center can take half a day or longer.

If you apply as a walk-in without an appointment, you will want to arrive well before the agency opens. From there, you might wait half an hour to several hours before you are able to submit your application. If the agency is particularly busy, you might not even be able to apply until the next day.

Whether you have an appointment or not, submitting your paperwork is only the first step. Under the best of circumstances, you will not be able to pick up your newly-issued passport until later in that same day - or possibly even the next day.

With all of this time away from home, you will probably consume at least one meal - maybe more. Sure, you can pack your own food and drinks to cut down on costs, but if you're like most people, you'll want to skip the hassle and head to a restaurant. Add these expenses to your tab.

Accommodations

Staying fed for a day away from home is one thing, but what if you need to stay overnight?

Due to the limited number of regional processing centers means sometimes applying for a rushed passport in person can be a multi-day affair.

Common reasons for having to book a room for the night include:

  • Lengthy drives – Some applicants have to drive 6 hours or longer to reach their nearest Regional Passport Agency. After such a lengthy drive (and a day spent waiting in lines) applicants may not have the focus, time, or energy to then turn around and head back home safely.
  • Round-trip flights - People that are especially far away from a Regional Passport Agency may be forced to resort to a round-trip flight in order to get their passports quickly. Catching a plane, flying in, applying for a passport, and leaving the same day can be just as draining as hours spent on the highway.
  • Incomplete applications - It isn’t uncommon for passport applicants to discover that they need to submit more supporting documents than they initially brought with them. This means either taking another round trip (adding a second round of additional costs in the process) or simply waiting until the missing materials can be shipped from home.

In each of these cases, it is very likely that an applicant would have to budget for an overnight stay.

For many travelers, once all of these factors are taken into account, the DIY approach isn’t necessarily the most cost-effective way to get a passport quickly.

Test it out for yourself. Add up the associated costs of your time, your transportation expenses, and your basic needs. Don’t be surprised if the total is large enough to transform a passport expeditor’s fee from an unwieldy expenditure into a money-saving bargain.

You are willing to pay for the convenience and expert support of a passport expeditor

There is certainly something to be said for convenience – especially when it comes to a complex, time-consuming process like getting a passport. Whether you are in a rush or simply want the comfort of having a valid passport on hand, a passport expediting service can be a tremendous help.

For starters, the best registered passport expeditors know passport applications inside and out. Incorrect paperwork is the leading cause of passport processing delays. As such, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes look over your forms and relevant materials before officially submitting them – especially when those eyes belong to a pro!

The stress of the passport process is real. While there are components of the process that you must do on your own, you can save both time and money by handing off the rest to a quality passport expediting company. This can free you up to handle other business like work, trip planning, child care, or simply a much needed break.

Sure, convenience has its price; but it may be worth weighing that price against the alternatives.

The Verdict

Every traveler’s passport needs are different. Timing, location, budget, and lifestyle all factor into whether a passport expediting service makes sense.

You will need to weigh your options to ensure that you are able to get the documentation you need. From our years of experience helping our readers through this decision-making process, we suggest:

The DIY approach is probably the right choice for you if...

  • your budget does not allow for any extra expenses.
  • you are within reasonable distance of a processing center.
  • you have some flexibility between now and when you need your passport in hand.

A passport expeditor is the right choice for you if...

  • you must have a passport and have no way to get to an agency.
  • the costs of applying on your own would be higher than the expeditor's fee.
  • applying in person would be a major inconvenience.

Still not sure is a passport expeditor is the right fit for your needs? Be sure to check out our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page or pose a question in our comments section.

To save you valuable time, we have also compiled a list of the best registered passport expediting companies that you can both trust and rely on to get your passport quickly. For more about the criteria we use to evaluate these services, visit our guide, “5 Criteria for Choosing the Best Passport Expediting Service.”

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