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Passport tips from the pros

Tracy L. Barnett
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passports

PLANNING AHEAD An especially large number of passports are expiring soon, so be prepared for company in the passport-renewal lines. (Photo: istockphoto.com/GeoPappas)

Carol Deshong knows about planning – as the owner of a small business she does plenty of that. So when she booked daughter Claire’s senior Spring Break trip to Cabo, she was careful to make sure her passport wasn’t expired.

“I remember feeling relieved that it wasn’t, so I just paid my money before the Spring Break trip in March, and that was October.”

She didn’t think too much more about it until her travel agent, Nora McMordie, sent an e-mail a week before the departure making sure everyone knew that if a passport was set to expire within six months of the return date, it would be necessary to get a new one.

“That’s when we went into freakout mode,” recalls Carol, with a laugh. “Hers was expiring in May, and the trip was in March.”

Like many people, the Deshongs didn’t know about the six-month rule that many countries have. It’s not a new rule, but it has been increasingly enforced in recent years, and U.S. citizens traveling on passports that expire in fewer than six months have increasingly been denied airline boarding or been detained upon arrival in certain foreign destinations.

(Canada and Mexico currently do not enforce the six-month rule, but some Central and South American countries do. Check travel.state.gov, which lists entry requirements by country.)

Carol flew into action. The soonest appointment she could make was three weeks later, which was too late. She made it anyway, and then they went to the passport office. The fact that they had an appointment expedited their process – and they were able to get the passport within 24 hours.

She was lucky. Many others incur heavy expenses when their tickets must be changed, or they miss out on entire vacations or business trips. Virginia Elliott, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, advises travelers to go the extra mile to make sure their passports are valid early in the travel-planning process.

Currently the government is experiencing an enormous spike in renewals, she said, because in 2007 the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was put into place, requiring a passport for travel to Canada, Mexico and other places that previously hadn’t required a passport. Nearly 18 million people applied for passports that year, most of which have a validity of 10 years. They will all be expiring soon, prompting a backlog in passport renewals and potentially slowing things down.

Another tip Elliot offered was to be aware that eyeglasses are no longer allowed on passport photos. Buzz reader Allan Fradkin didn’t realize this and recently lost three weeks in his passport-application process when he sent in passport photos in which he was wearing glasses.

Ironically, Fradkin is an opthamologist.

(The eyeglasses rule started November 2016. If your current valid passport from before November 2016 has your glasses, it is fine.)

David Hill experienced a stranger border-crossing dilemma, and one that’s a bit more complicated to fix. Having a common name has made him the unfortunate namesake of a convicted criminal, meaning that several times he has had the traumatic experience of being misidentified and manhandled at the border. His wife, Denise Nepveux, has suggested he solve the problem by taking her name. David says that after his last such experience, he’s considering it.

Our experts offer our readers the following passport tips for the year ahead:

• Be sure that the name on your plane ticket – and that of every family member – is exactly the same as the name on your passport.

• Don’t bother with a paid passport service. The process is easy, and a number of post offices and libraries in the Houston area offer this service.

• Make sure the expiration is six months out from the return date, not the departure date. The most common passport problem is this one, according to Nora.

• See travel.state.gov for detailed information on the passport application and renewal process.

Where to get a passport

The Buzz readership area is loaded with places where you can apply for or renew your passport – provided you don’t wait until the last minute. Here are some:

Astrodome Post Office, 8205 Braesmain Drive, 77025

Fleetwood Station, 315 Addicks Howell Road, 77079

Julius Melcher Station, 2802 Timmons Lane, 77027

Long Point Station, 8000 Long Point Road, 77055

McGovern/Stella Link Neighborhood Library, 7405 Stella Link Road, 77025

Memorial Park Post Office, 10505 Town and Country Way, 77024

Rich Hill Station, 2950 Unity Drive, 77057

University Station, 1319 Richmond Ave., 77006

Harris County District Clerk’s Office, Harris County Civil Courthouse (first floor), 201 Caroline, Houston, TX 77002

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