The Easy Way To Apply For A Passport (Hint, It’s Not At The Post Office!)

Just about three years ago, we moved into a new house. For the first few weeks, I tried as hard as possible to avoid Steve, the mail delivery person in our new neighborhood. He kind of scared me, mainly because he knew my name and would call loudly to me from across the street, wildly waving packages and handfuls of letters in the air as he did so. Soon enough, I realized that he was simply a character. In fact, he was kind of a gossip, and sometimes he would knock on the door just to chat. But he was great at what he did: efficient, speedy, knowledgable. I loved him. And he clearly loved his job.

Sadly, he accepted a promotion and got transferred to a different route. Now our mail delivery is terrible. Sometimes the mail just doesn’t arrive at all, and when it does, it is frequently not our mail. I miss Steve. Unfortunately, I have to say that he was the exception rather than the rule. The Post Offices in my area are notoriously awful. So when my passport expired, I was dreading the process of applying for a new one.

I tried to make it happen several times over the last couple of months. I would steel myself and steadfastly brave the long lines and annoying people filling the Post Office. I would take a number (our Post Office does not accept reservations for Passport applications). And then I would wait. During these excruciatingly, agonizingly slow and painful moments, I would try to figure out what was taking the clerk so long. Each time a new person would come to the window, that fresh victim would have to endure a minimum of twenty-five minutes of line-by-line questioning and review of his or her application. It was a thoroughly ineffective, inefficient and insane system. Sisyphean.

The longest I lasted was two hours before I wilted in defeat and frustration. I tried calling a few different Post Office locations, but no one would answer the phone. I finally drove to what I thought might be a location that could help me (they claimed to be able to make appointments!) but the clerk told me that the earliest appointment he could schedule was in two months.

I realized that I had to be missing something. At this rate, no one could ever make it out of the country. So I went back online and navigated through the clunky government website until I found this page. I entered my zip code and crossed my fingers, hoping to find an answer, and miraculously, I did.

The University of California Department of Recreational Sports.

Hmm. Unlikely, I thought, but it was listed as an option. I called the number, and the phone was answered promptly by a woman who sounded both capable and professional. I tentatively asked her if they processed passport applications, and she happily responded that they did. When I asked her how long the wait was, she laughed and told me that there was none. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, especially after I asked my final question: how long did the process take? I almost gasped in shock when she replied: five minutes.

Needless to say, I zoomed down to the Department of Recreational Sports. I raced in, just in case others had discovered this miraculous and otherworldly office and were hot on my heels. Nope. Just as she had described, there was no wait, and the entire thing took five minutes.

The contrast was so intense that it felt like an episode of Candid Camera. I kept waiting for someone to pop out of the bushes and yell, “Gotcha!” But that didn’t happen. Instead, I went home and did a little research. I learned that many universities have passport acceptance facilities on campus. So I wanted to pass that fact along to you, just in case you are experiencing your own Twilight Zone Sisyphean post office moment.

Happy Traveling. May your wait for a passport be short and the stamps that fill it many.

Comments

  1. RSJohnson says:

    In my neck of the woods, you can apply for a passport at ASU (maybe its a univerisity thing) and most city government offices. Thank goodness! I’d hate to wait in my post office, which is located right next to a retirement community. No thank you!

  2. I absolutely adore life when I discover a hidden gem like that!

  3. I went to the public library to get mine. The two ladies working on it took several pictures until I looked my best! couldn’t ask for better service.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Mary – Sounds ideal. You could even multitask and pick up some reading material at the same time 🙂

      My photo ended up looking like a mug shot. Seriously, it is one of the most depressing pics of all time. I decided I just couldn’t handle getting another one taken. My kids were horrified when they saw it, to give you an idea of just how bad it was. Oh well!!

  4. pinkisnice says:

    I’m sooooo excited about this tip. And it’s a good excuse to hit some fun used clothing stores near most unis with all the saved time!

  5. Points Pixie says:

    pinkisnice – I like the way you think!

  6. I thought the DMV was bad ’till the first time I applied for a passport. My experience at the post office has always been *exactly* as you describe and I’ve been procrastinating for months and months about going down there again…
    But now I’m almost excited to go. Thanks so much for the tip! (love your blog!)

    • Points Pixie says:

      Peter – once, my husband and I went to the DMV together and couldn’t figure out the bureaucratic maze. When we asked a DMV worker if we could ask her a question, she wagged a long manicured finger at us and yelled, “No! You may not!” So for me, the DMV and the Post Office are a toss-up. But I sure did love the uni solution.

  7. And the Post Office wonders why they can’t make ends meet. Their customer service is lacking. Great tip about the Unis!

  8. 2 years ago I needed to add extra pages to my passport. As I live abroad, I waited until my next visit home and figured it would be easy to get it taken care of within 2 weeks. Wrong. First of all, it’s expensive. And then they charge 3-4 times that for “expedited” service – meaning it will be done within 4-6 weeks. Then I checked the US consulate in Berlin – same day service, no appointment needed, and it’s free. Unbelievable.

  9. turningleaf says:

    Two weeks ago I called my local post office to renew my daughter’s passport – earliest appointment was June. Now, I actually had a good experience applying at my local post office which takes appointments, so I’m not holding that against them. But I did need her passport sooner. I could have gone to the County Clerk’s office, which I called and the lady said there was no wait. But I happened to have an upcoming trip to Washington DC and just took my daughter to the Passport Center there. Getting to the window took 20 min since I didn’t have an appointment, but after paying the expedited fee of $60 I returned to pick up her passport 3 hours later.

  10. Luv2Travel says:

    I know some people LOVE the Post Office, but I do not. I would suggest also that doing it by mail is painless if you have plenty of time: http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html

    One must always be ready for adventure!

  11. This is awesome!! I’ve never seen this page despite all the travels and passport issues I’ve dealt with over the years. mine expires next year and I see our community college as well as Library both offer. Thanks so much!!

  12. traderprofit says:

    Def recommend foreign based consulates or embassies and you can get it done on an expedited basis in a few days. Thought I had lost mine and went to the Embassy in San Jose, CR.
    It was a 5 minute wait or less.

  13. Interesting. I know some small town county courthouse departments offer this service as well due to the rural location. Usually they are not busy at all. I guess searching that page would be the way to go. I’ve had good experiences at the post office but they vary greatly.

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