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Trust me. This is something you do not want to do. Be a smart chap (or chapette) and check the country passport requirements with the U.S. state department well in advance of any international trips. However, if you want to be like me and live on the edge, this info on how to get a passport in one day may come in handy.
Backstory: when I was initially planning our trip this summer to France, Italy, and Ireland, I looked up the visa and passport info that applied to the area we are visiting. A cursory glance told me that France and Italy were both part of the ‘Schengen Area’ and that we needed 3 months remaining on our passports from the date we were departing from those countries. Ireland’s requirements were even more lax. Easy enough. My current passport expired in November, so it would be valid.
Fast forward to the day before we are leaving for the Bay Area, and two days before our flight takes off for Nice, France. I am writing down the emergency contact info for the U.S. consulates in areas we would be visiting. While reviewing the info for Italy, I noticed that the state department information said that a U.S. passport must have six months remaining when I entered the country! Panic. Is this correct? When did things change? This could potentially ruin our entire vacation.
Can I get a passport in one day?
I called the state department to confirm my findings, and they said yes, I would be in trouble if I tried to enter Italy. This was 6 a.m. Pacific time, and I had no idea if I could pull this off to save our vacation.
I quickly assessed my options: A) we could try to get on the plane to Nice and then cross the border into Italy by train, hoping they don’t ask for my passport (possible within the EU). However, there might be problems getting on the plane to Ireland from Italy. It would also technically be illegal. B) We could fly to Nice, spend our first six days as planned, and re-plan the middle portion of the trip. We would eat about $600 in travel costs and incur some additional unplanned costs. C) We could call the trip off completely, eating about $600 in travel costs and a couple free hotel nights. After all the work we had put into planning the trip, this sounded downright depressing. D) I could see if I could get a new passport in less than 24 hours.
Option D, while on the table, was something I wanted to try. I called into the automated system and tried to book an appointment, but the earliest date it gave me was July 12. Scratch the appointment idea. I called the number again.
When I finally got a living, breathing human being on the other end, I was told, yes, there were definitely no appointments available. BUT the lady said I could show up at the passport agency office in San Francisco before 1:30 p.m. where I would hopefully be admitted as a walk in. Walk-in hours are officially 8:30-1:30, so I could be turned away if I was late. At least there was hope.
The call ended just after 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, and San Francisco is a solid 5 hour drive from my home. My wife and I were still packing, so I headed out the door without her. I’d figure out how to get her to the Bay later. It happened to be our anniversary, and instead of having a relaxing drive and night in the City, we would have to make up the plan as we went. But saving our vacation was worth it.
I was immediately grateful that I had given us an extra day in the Bay Area. We could have been traveling Saturday instead of Friday, and the passport center would have been closed. With barely two hours of leeway, I could hopefully get to the passport center and convince them to produce a passport for me by the end of the day.
My experience getting a passport in one day
The SF passport center is located on the 3rd floor of the government building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue near Civic Center in downtown San Francisco. When I arrived, the agent at the door said that they had admitted over 200 people without an appointment, and he was trying to turn away the lady in front of me. I started to panic inside. I had arrived solidly before the 1:30 p.m. cutoff.
I explained my situation to the agent, and he said that they had to let me in because I was traveling before they would be open again. Merely 15 minutes later, I gave my already completed passport renewal form (DS-82) to the clerk, he looked it over, passed the papers back, and then assigned me a number. I was hopeful that this actually meant I would get a passport that day.
It took nearly 90 minutes for my number to be called. The lady who finally processed my application assured me that the passport would be finished around 3:30 that day and that I should return at that time. I was elated. It looked like I would actually get a passport in one day, but I wouldn’t rest easy until I actually had the thing in hand.
When I returned at 3:30, there was already a ridiculous line of people waiting to get passports. I had expected it to take 30 minutes at most to receive my actual passport, but it ended up taking nearly an hour and a half. But I got it!
I checked it over to make sure that my name and info weren’t messed up. My paranoia was so strong I must have checked the thing at least 5 times. But it looked good, and I headed out with a great sense of relief. Our vacation was saved, and I could sleep well that night.
Although I now know that you can get a passport in one day, I certainly do not recommend this route. Things would have been much easier had I been more careful when planning our trip. Here are the mistakes I made:
- I should have looked at the actual state department info for each country, not just the Schengen area. While the Schengen Area requirements apply to all countries that adhere to the agreement, each also get to add their own extra requirements. This is just plain confusing, but it is completely valid.
- I should have simply renewed early. I had plenty of time. It’s my fault I waited so long to renew. Countries are able to change their requirements at any time, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
As a recap, if you ever need to get a passport in one day, do the following:
- Find out where the nearest passport center is. For some people, getting to one in a day may sadly not be feasible. Look here for more info.
- Call the U.S. State Department right away at 1 (877) 487-2778. Find out what the cutoff is for walk-ins. If you have a few days, try to make an appointment. The place is like the DMV on steroids.
- Get to the passport center ASAP. Try to have your passport forms ready to go. You may have to prove your need to get a passport that quickly, so have your airline tickets or confirmations ready to show.
- If all goes well, you should be admitted, and the center will have your passport ready that day. You’ll have to pay the fee for expedited processing.
I sincerely hope you never need to use this information. This was one of the most stressful days of my life, and I suggest that you don’t repeat my mistakes. But it is good to know that it is actually possible to get a passport in one day!