Jan 142015
Baby is concerned you might make the same mistakes we did. Read on to avoid them!

Baby is concerned you might make the same mistakes we did. Read on to avoid them!

Much of this travel blog exists to explain how travel is easier and more fabulous than people imagine. Today, however, I must rant about how much harder it was to get our baby’s passport than we ever anticipated. In total, it took us FOUR attempts and five months. Why?

Here are the main issues: The hours that post offices offer to submit passport applications are as slippery and thin as eels. Moreover, both parents, plus the child must be present to apply for the passport, unless one parent has signed a notarized document. You also need a stack of paperwork, two photos, and a birth certificate. Now, this might seem like small inconveniences for the precious acquisition of a U.S. Passport, but just watch how it all played out with us.

Reaching for the prize: a U.S. Passport!

Reaching for the prize: a U.S. Passport!

Attempt #1: I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to go somewhere with a baby, but children have magical powers to delay the completion time of any plans, usually by at least three hours. Thus it came to pass that on a Saturday in September, our attempts to get out the door and to the post office with our little man were foiled, and the sun was setting by the time we got his diaper situation in order, naps achieved, and jacket on. It was just as well that we didn’t make it that time, however, because it turned out we had filled out one of the forms incorrectly, and had forgotten to take baby’s passport photos. Sheesh.

The little man, very serious during his passport photo shoot.

The little man, very serious during his passport photo shoot.

Three weeks later, we finally got our rears in gear to head to the local convenience store that takes passport photos. This task was actually both easy and hilarious. We held the little guy on a stool in front of a pull-down screen, and the clerk took a digital photo. Within ten minutes, the necessary two copies were printed and paid for, and we went our merry way… but not before falling over from laughter at the resulting pictures. Check these out!

How hilarious are these baby passport photos???

How hilarious are these baby passport photos???

Attempt #2: On a Saturday in October, my husband and I got the baby suited up for the Boston cold, gathered all our stuff, and jogged out the door, paperwork in hand. We stood in line in our local post office for 45 minutes. When we got to the front, breathless and excited, the clerk declared, “Sorry, no more passport applications today. Applications are 8:30am to 12:30pm on Saturdays, and it’s 12:31.”

“What?!” we gasped. “It’s only one minute past the time!”

“Sorry,” the clerk said, clearly not the least bit sorry. “Try again another time.”

Wait, what? Passport hours are that short?!

Wait, what? Passport hours are that short?!

Attempt #3: Come December, Colin and I decided that, despite our previous assumption, the weekend passport acceptance hours of the post office were actually harder to catch than a weekday. Therefore, we arranged all our teacher thingies (grading, copies, and such) so that we could sprint out of work right as the last bell rang to scoop up the baby from daycare and make it to the one post office in town whose listed weekday passport application acceptance hours ended at 4pm versus 3pm. As before, we stood in line for 45 minutes. When we reached the clerk, it was 3:30pm. “Plenty of time!” we thought, triumphantly. Oh, were we ever wrong.

“Sorry,” purred the clerk smugly. “Passport hours end at 3pm.”

I held up my smartphone, displaying the official USPS page that declared that office was open until 4pm.

“Ah,” said the clerk, “that’s wrong.” She handed me a printed list of offices and hours. “These are right.”

I pointed to one address. “Isn’t that this post office?” I asked. “This address that says: Passport Applications until 4pm?

“Yes,” she replied.

“But even though it says you accept passport applications until 4pm, you don’t.”

“Right,” she said. “Goodbye and have a nice day.”

You better bet I sent a furious tweet to the U.S. Postal Service. They kindly replied that they would correct the listing on their website. That merely lessened my anger from “Level 11 Fury” to “Level 9 Rage,” but it was something. The lesson for you: Call ahead to verify listed passport application hours, or risk rage.

My husband's comment: "How can such a silly photo be on such an important document?" Hehe.

My husband’s comment: “How can such a silly photo be on such an important document?” Hehe.

Attempt #4: School vacation came at last! We couldn’t go to the post office in December because of our Washington, D.C. travels, but in early January (yes, FIVE months after we started this quest), we managed to get documents, photos, birth certificate, and baby out the door and to the front of the post office line before 12:30pm on a Saturday.

During the 45-minute wait in the post office line (which we now know is customary), I suddenly did some math and realized, “Oh no! We need to pay the extra money to expedite the passport, since we fly to Ireland in February!” Good thing I’d brought an extra check so I could rip up the original one and write the new amount.

Once at the front of the line, the process took about fifteen minutes. I was a little freaked out that the clerk TOOK the baby’s birth certificate, but he assured me that we would get it back by mail around the same time that the passport was mailed to us.

Sure enough, in two weeks both packages arrived. We were so excited! “Yay! Baby got his passport!!!”
I posted to my @WorldLillie Twitter account.

A reader promptly replied, “Nice. You now have a @WorldBaby.” Indeed we do. Ireland, here we come!

This passport thing is pretty awesome. Thanks, Mommy and Daddy!

This passport thing is pretty awesome. Thanks, Mommy and Daddy!

So what about YOU? What have your experiences been with getting a first passport, either for a child or for yourself? Do share!

For another warning about passports, click here. For a crazy story about a woman who stole her traveling boyfriend’s passport for a nefarious reason, click here!


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  44 Responses to “A Warning About Getting the First Passport for Your Child”

  1. Thanks for this post – came across it while looking up what was involved in getting an infant a passport (baby is 3 weeks old and I’m getting cabin fever). It’s really good to know what to expect in my own neighborhood! Hope you and family are having fun in Ireland away from all this snow right now!

  2. What a story. Remains me of an I Love Lucy Show, with the time issue, finally Fred unplugged the clock in the passport office.
    So glad it all worked out for you. Your baby is adorable and what a lucky little guy to be in Ireland with
    his own passport. Looking forward to reading about Ireland.

  3. I love this post. It brought back memories of traveling to England from California with my children. My son was 31/2 and my daughter was about 22 months old. We broke the flight up with a stop on the east coast to visit my mother in New Jersey and my husband’s parents in Cohasset, MA. Then we flew to England. I think the trip from Cslifornia must have been uneventful because I don’t remember much about it. On the trip to England, the plane (a 747) was practically empty. Great! We thought. The kids can stretch out and take naps – and so can we. My daughter cooperated with this plan, but my son was too excited by the prospect of his first really long flight. He asked his dad to take him to the bathroom several times and finally agreed to lie down and take a nap. We were ready for one too, but were soon awakened by the flight attendant with our son in tow. He had gone to the bathroom by himself, locked himself in and pushed every button he could find including the one to call the attendant. She wasn’t amused.

  4. I’m not a parent but this is valuable information I’m going to share with my parent friends. Cheers!

  5. I am a USPS retail clerk and passport agent. Please understand that the US Department of State determines what is necessary to apply for a passport. You are required to produce a certified birth certificate (which is returned to you by mail), ONE photo (which we can take on site), and photo ID (for minors, photo IDs of both parents). We will gladly make the necessary photocopies of the IDs. Yes, both parents are required to be present (or produce the notarized document), this is to prevent one parent removing the child from the country without the permission of the other. This may seen unnecessary to the happily married couple who just want to go on vacation with their child(ren), but this sort of thing happens more often than you may imagine.

    As passport agents we take our jobs VERY SERIOUSLY. There are many people attempting to obtain US passports for nefarious purposes. It is an issue of homeland security. We routinely get updates of suspicious activity everywhere from large urban areas to rural towns.

    In regards to hours of operation, processing hours will differ depending upon the office, and usually end a half-hour before closing, to allow for the generation of reports that must accompany the passport applications. In some locales, the local courthouse may be able to process your application.

    These days we are more and more reliant upon the internet for our information. A visit to http://www.travel.state.gov will provide all the information necessary. However, many of the issues stated in the previous comments could have been averted by a quick phone call to the local post office. In my office, we are happy to give you all the information you need to be completely prepared when you come in.

    • Nancy,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write this reply, and for the important job you do. I fully admit that Colin and I were not thorough enough in preparing for our first three passport application tries, and you are right that a simple phone call could have cleared up many of these issues! My hope in writing this post was to encourage others to do the prep work (ex: calling to verify hours) that we didn’t do.

    • I’m glad you wrote this. I applied for passports just the other day and only submitted one photo. I was starting to get worried!

    • Glad to help!

  6. I am one of the few that had a great experience at the PO (post office) but not so great experience with the picture. My son was not ready for his pic and needed to fill his belly walking around Costco first!
    Sharon at the PO was so great and made it a quick and efficient process. In my local PO, there is a back room now to make the process easier. Within two weeks we had the passport and the birth certificate a few days later (much like getting your ATM card and password).

    No we are waiting in great anticipation for our Disney cruise during April vacation – a great cruise for a toddler and an exhausted Mom/teacher!

    Enjoy Ireland! I traveled there in February well before motherhood. Bring warm coats, hats and gloves! While it is warmer temperature wise, it is very raw!

    • So glad it was smooth and quick for you! Have a wonderful cruise. You deserve it!
      Thanks for the Ireland tips. We will pack accordingly.

  7. Hahahaha!! This post brought back memories. I’m sorry you had some aggravation! When my now-15 year old was a few months old, I believe 7 months old, we decided to spend “ringing in the Millenium” in the Caribbean somewhere, not a US island, and she needed a passport. That was quite a scene. Winter, small photo shop in NYC, her bundled up to be a round little snowball. Unwrapped her, dealt with a diaper disaster, and our assigned time was already almost up. YOu see the hand and arm of a woman who worked in the photo shop holding her up, including long red fingernails and around 8 big glittering QVC-style rings, in the photo. Well, whatever: 15 years later and I haven’t thought about it in a decade at least.

  8. Hilarious, but so true. I’ve been struggling to get my own passport (I fly to Jamaica in June). I was absolutely baffled that no post offices, none around me at all, have afternoon hours. I mentioned that I am a college student with most of my classes in the mornings, and asked if I could even pay extra for someone to see me at 2:30 or 3:00 PM on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. “Nope, sorry (not sorry).” What about Saturdays? “We only do passports on regular business days.” Even the bank runs on Saturday mornings! Don’t you at least have 2 or 3 hours on Saturday mornings? “Nope, sorry (again, not sorry).” Finally found 1 post office a ways away that does Saturday appointments, but they actually have you schedule appointments over the phone. I called last Monday, couldn’t get in till 10:00 AM on February 7th. Good thing I still have several months between now and my trip, but by the sound of this article I might actually use those, too.

  9. Sometimes, it is just so complicated and a lot of hassle to get your kid a passport 😐 But, that’s the only way and worth it anyway 🙂

    Will keep in mind when I have my kids 😉

    • Yes! It is surely worth it, and I’ve very thankful that getting him a passport is within our reach at all.

  10. One more tip for your next trip: we just got our son his first passport (he’s almost 2) and we did a passport renewal for our daughter (almost 7). I had assumed that the renewal would be less complicated than the original application for a child. It’s the exact same process. So make sure you bring back the birth certificate when you renew in 5 years. The good news: it only took about 2 weeks for the passports to arrive with the regular service. Have a great trip!

  11. UGH. that story is CRAZY!!!!! and YAY IRELAND!

  12. Sorry to hear of your passport travails. At least your baby looks happy in the photo. When our older son was a toddler, he cried when his passport photo was taken. Still, every cloud has a silver lining: Immigration officers tended to find the picture of the unhappy, red-eyed kid amusing.

  13. Wow, I love your baby pictures, they are so animated….and of course the advise and situations for getting a US passport, never easy is it? But fantastic post and pictures!

    • Thanks! My baby may not look exactly like me, but I think he has the same propensity for dramatic facial expressions!

  14. Ugh, thankfully the reward is worth all of the trips and headaches! I’ve felt the same way about every bureaucratic thing I’ve done in Spain!

  15. This is why the USPS will end up out of business (and about 10 other reasons). After you stood in line for 45 minutes and got to the counter at 1 minute after 12:31, they should have given you credit for “time served”. I might have had to be restrained. You definitely need to tweet the link to this post with whatever hash tags the USPS kind of monitors. I have a box I was going to take to the post office to mail, but I’m going to figure out how to send it some other way. I don’t want to be arrested. 😉

  16. I’ve had a passport since I was maybe 3 or 4 months old. It was a necessity early on since half of my family lives in France. I had to renew mine a few years ago and it wasn’t too bad.

    Getting my French passport was also a surprisingly painless process. My parents never got around to making it official so when it came time to study abroad in college I marched to the French Consulate in NYC with my dad in tow. A few forms filled out, a few fees paid, some digital fingerprints and I was told my French passport and carte nationale d’identité would be ready in a matter of weeks. This was not the case when my bag got stolen in Madrid and my carte (not my French passport thank God) along with all my contents in that bag were lost forever. It was a whole YEAR before I had a new carte nationale d’identité in my hands because the mission of French bureaucracy is to slowly suck the life out of your soul.

  17. Wow, I had the complete opposite experience! I bundled baby up (winter in Alaska) and was in and out of the Post Office in 15 minutes. They take online appointments and even took his photos right there. I am a single mom and already had a copy of the birth certificate and documentation stating why there was only one parent present. I read and reread everything before I went and was pleasantly surprised to get his birth certificate and passport in a couple of weeks without paying for expedition. I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience!!! It had been on my list of things to do before he was even born and I was so proud when I got it done when he was 5 months old! Happy Travels!!

    • I’ve been curious how this works for single-parent families, so thanks for sharing this. Glad it was an easy process for you!

  18. The funniest part of that story is taking his photo next to the frozen foods! My first thought was “They issue passports at 7-11?”

  19. We didn’t have the same experience with the first passport because, daughter was only two weeks old. Both parents had some time off and daughter was always asleep so we just had to hold her head up. Her second passport was when she was five and we experience the same craziness with the darn post office in NYC!!!

    They were never open and we had the same experience as you; getting there before the closing time listed on the website but closed early!!!! SO ridiculous. Congrats on the new passport, don’t have to do it again for another five years!

    • I love this suggestion: Get the passport while both parents are still on leave. Granted, we didn’t totally have the energy to leave the house at ALL back then, but it sure would have saved a ton of time on this end!

  20. We had a much easier time in Pittsburgh. My husband got a document notarized at the UPS store for 10 dollars, which meant we didn’t have to bother coordinating schedules. I took baby to the courthouse to have the passport processed on a weekday while on maternity leave, which took maybe 5 minutes after a 10 minute wait. I also had the passport expedited, and got baby’s birth certificate back in about 5 days, with the passport arriving 11 calendar days after application. She is 3 weeks old in the photo, which will be her photo used as her primary identification for the next 5 years haha.

    • You know, you make a good point… We probably should have just put our effort into getting that notarized letter, then it would have been so much easier to coordinate!

  21. In Georgia you have to make an appointment at the post office, which is a pain but ensures you get in and out. You can also go, without an appointment, to the county courthouse, and be in and out in like 10 minutes.

    • Interesting! I kept thinking that an appointment would be soooo much better. I wonder if courthouses around New England do passports, or if it’s just post offices here…

  22. Our post office took useless pictures of our child at two months (as in, ones with my hand in them, which isn’t allowed), so I ended up doing his photos myself.

    On an unrelated note, I confidently headed out several blocks on foot while pregnant to a post office in DC recently after confirming on the website that it would be open on a Saturday morning – only to find the building it was in had been demolished a few months before. Yeah.

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