I’m going to give the U.S. Postal Service the benefit of the doubt that my frustrating experience applying for my kids’ passports here in San Francisco was not the norm. In case it is, though, I’m passing along to you what I learned.
Apply early. It can take up to six weeks to receive your passport, although my kids’ came in about three weeks. My husband’s passport renewal (which we sent in by mail) arrived in two weeks. Still, better safe than sorry, so give yourself some cushion.
Not every post office accepts passport applications. Check here for a list of post offices near you that will accept applications. The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Postal Service are consolidating passport acceptance facilities, so places that used to take applications may not anymore.
Most acceptance locations require appointments, and it’s not easy to make one. Calling on the phone to make an appointment is futile. I called five different post offices in the city multiple times a day for several days and never got through to any of them. Maybe you will have more luck than I did (go buy a lottery ticket, if that’s the case), or maybe going down to the office to make the appointment will work. I didn’t try that; my nearest post office, which doesn’t take applications, directed me to an office that accepts walk-ins.
You’ll probably end up at the San Francisco P&DC Facility at 1300 Evans St., too. This seems to be where the post offices tell everyone to go. No appointment is necessary, and they are open on Saturday mornings. If you’re thinking, “This sounds too good to be true.” You are right.
Get there early and go on a weekday. The office only accepts a certain number of passports a day before it begins turning people away, so even though the office hours say 7:30-3:30 Monday through Friday and 8:00 – 12:00 on Saturdays, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to apply, if you arrive later in the day. In fact, we arrived at 8:45 on a Saturday — only forty-five minutes after they opened —and they had already stopped taking applications.
Set low expectations and block out some time. After we were turned away on a Saturday, we went on a Friday. We arrived before they opened, were twelfth in line, and it took three hours to be called. Again, we may have just had very bad luck, but after spending that much time with fellow frustrated wannabe travelers, we learned that our story of multiple attempts to apply and long waits was not unusual.
Get passport pictures taken before you go. Some offices say that you can get your passport photo taken onsite, but based on what I saw at Evans St., I wouldn’t trust it. There are so many other places that take passport photos: Walgreens, CVS, UPS Store, Office Max, FedEx Kinkos, other local copy shops… just get it done before you go.
Notarize a statement of consent, so only one parent has to be there for kids’ applications. If both parents have legal custody of the child, then both must be present to apply for the child’s passport. You can work around this rule by having one parent fill out and notarize a form giving permission for the child to get the passport (you can probably notarize the form at the same place you’re getting your passport photos). This extra step means you only have to work around one adult’s schedule to apply, rather than both of you.
The San Francisco Passport Agency is only for travel coming up in the next two weeks. If I’ve made this entire process sound horrible, and you end up procrastinating to get it done, then this place is your last chance to get your passport. You can make an appointment here with proof of impending travel and pay an expedited fee of $60, plus the cost of the normal processing fees ($105-$135) to get your passport in a jiffy.
Just go to Sonoma. Friends of ours took a Friday off, dropped by the post office near Sonoma Square, got their daughter’s photo taken on the spot and submitted her passport application, all in about fifteen minutes. They enjoyed the rest of the day in wine country. Be like my friends. They are smart.
The good news is that passports for minors (fifteen years and younger) are valid for five years. Adult passports are valid for ten years and the renewal process is much easier. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s website for all of the official information you’ll need. Once you’ve got your passport, breathe a sigh of relief because you’re free to move about the world. Bon voyage!
Editor’s Note, June 12, 2017: Several of our readers have also suggested going to the Daly City post office to submit your passport applications, instead of trying to do it in San Francisco.