What to Do if Your Passport is Expired

| Friday, 21 Dec. 2012

A Passport is always your best identification

Maybe you left it in a safe deposit box since your last move and had not looked at it for several years. Now your cruise is sailing in four weeks and you just noticed your passport is expired! What to do, what to do?

There are a few different options - let's take them in order.

First - Check to see if the cruise line will accept a certified birth certificate in place of a passport. They will if you are going on a closed loop cruise, which is a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port of call and only visits nations that participate in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, also known as the WHTI. (A Panama Canal cruise by definition is not "closed loop" because it ends in a different port.)

Don't get frustrated, this is not as complicated as it sounds. Fortunately, most cruises do qualify as "closed loop" and there are only a few islands that are not a part of the WHTI, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, for example.

The easiest thing to do is to try checking in for your cruise (online at the cruise line's web site) to see what documents it will accept as valid identification. In many cases you will "certified birth certificate" listed as an option. We'll tell you how to get one of those below.

However, it is important to note that the rules change if you are not a U.S. citizen. A cruise line will not allow any passenger who does not have the proper identification to board the ship - and neither will they accept responsibility if you make a mistake and give you a refund. It is your responsibility to have all of the proper documentation based on your citizenship status.

For this reason, a valid passport is ALWAYS your best identification for any travel overseas. Not only will it get you on any cruise but it will also allow you to fly overseas or fly home in the middle of the cruise if you have an emergency. We always recommend having a passport whenever possible.

Are you aware of special passport issues? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

How to Get a Certified Birth Certificate

Here is a very good web site from the U.S. Customs and Border Control people who manage the verification of documents at borders: "I'm taking a Closed Loop cruise, do I need a passport?"

Once you have verified that you are on a "closed loop cruise" then all you need to take that cruise is a certified birth certificate. Now, it is important to note that a certified birth certificate comes from the county government in which you were born - not from the hospital. In the old days these court houses had different names, but today they are mostly standardized from state to state as "The Office of Vital Records."

Normally you can call them and request a copy of that birth certificate for a nominal fee, about $20. If you are out of state they can usually arrange to send it to you by overnight or express package service. You will have to pay extra for this service, but all of the fees can usually be handled all at once by giving the office a credit card to charge. One snag in this process is the question of whether or not you need to prove your identity and the right to obtain this record. If so, you have to call them and ask them what you need to send to them in order to get the document. It may be a notarized letter verifying your identity, for example.

Here is a page listing all of the "where to write for a certified birth certificate" offices by state:

The Other Option - An Expedited Passport

The other option is to apply for an expedited passport. If you happen to live in a city with a federal court house you may be able to call them, make an appointment, bring your proof of identification and put the process of an expedited passport into place.

If you do NOT live in such a city it is still possible to get a passport within seven day, three days or even next-day service. The key is to find a third party service that makes a business out of going to the Federal Court house for you. You will need to send them proof of identification (your old passport, for example) by overnight mail. They will then fill out all of the required forms and get the passport for you.

The cost for these services is about $170 per passport just for their service. In addition, you will have to pay for the government processing fee (about $120) and whatever shipping costs are needed (overnight or express packages both directions).

The U.S. State Department does offer its own expedited service for a smaller fee, but their turnaround time is closer to three weeks, although it varies all the time. There is no harm in contacting them first to see what they say.

Vitally, however… always keep a buffer time to make sure you get the document in time. If they say you will get it in three weeks, and your cruise is in four weeks, go with a faster service instead. For example, this is the holiday season and the mail is slow even for expedited services. Whatever the State Department tells you in terms of turnaround time is constantly subject to change, even after you commit to their service. It is better to just play it safe and make sure you have your document as soon as possible.

To find these independent passport expediting services simply Google "expedited passport services." You will find a number of them all located very close the Federal Court Houses. Here are some names, although these are NOT meant as endorsements by us:

You get the idea - the next step is up to you. And next time be sure to check your passport as soon as you hear about the cruise you may be taking. You do NOT want to find out that the last minute that your passport is expired.

Are you aware of special passport issues? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

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