Expedited Passport Services
If you’re reading this page you probably need a passport expedited. The US Government does offer passport expediting for two to three week turn around and you can learn more about that on our Passport Services page. This page is going to focus on private passport expediting companies.
What is a Passport Expediting Service
A passport expediting company (also referred to as a passport expeditor, passport service or hand-carry service) is a company that is registered with the US Department of State to act as a middle man so-to-speak between applicants and government passport agencies. These companies, of which very few actually exist, essentially have pre-set expedited passport appointments at passport offices around the country. There are currently about 25 passport offices located throughout the country, of that only about half of them allow expeditors.
In order to become a registered expeditor, the company must first submit a request to process at a specific agency office. Due diligence is completed by the State Department who, upon approval, allows the company to submit a registration packet. The registration process requires the company to perform background checks on all employees (old and new) and certify a plethora of information. This certification is done at least once a year continually as well.
While the program is managed through the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Passport Services, National Hand-Carry Procedures for Passport Applications and Completed Passports program (wow – that’s a mouthful), the actual policies for requirements and processing vary from passport agency office to office. This is one of the complications for expeditors, different Passport Agency offices have slightly different document requirements, processing times and “slot allocution”. Here are some of the challenges the passport service industry has to deal with:
Expediting Service Processing Times
While services provided to the public are generally pretty consistent from agency office to agency office, expeditors are provided with different processing options. In some cases there is a set processing time for applications submitted by a passport expediting company, in other cases two (or sometimes three) different levels of expediting are provided. For instance, the Washington, DC Passport Agency offers registered expediting services three options for submission each day; one same day, 2 three day and 5 five day. So this means that each day a passport service can submit:
- One application which will be completed later that day
- Two applications which will be completed two days after they are submitted
- Five application which will be completed one week after they are submitted
You may notice when reviewing passport expediting services, they base (and price) their passport processing options on the number of days you need it in. Some people think that expeditors are jacking up prices on one or two day turn arounds “because they can”. The truth is it is more of a supply and demand thing. As you can see from the example above, one, two and three day turn arounds are very limited (in fact there are only three or four agencies in the country that even offer same day service to expeditors right now). Expeditors don’t want everyone ordering such fast services because they simply can’t process that many that fast. Customers who order 6, 8 or 10 day turn arounds provide more flexibility for the service to get the application processed therefore the prices are cheaper.
Passport Company Allotment
Each local passport agency office can determine the number of passport services it allows to register at its offices and each registered company is limited to submitting the same number of applications. Some offices, like the Houston Passport Agency, have a rumored 70 private expediting companies registered. Many of these registrations are either not fully utilized or otherwise not productive and they are trying to whittle this down to the core services that provide the most consistent amount of work. Other offices, like the Boston Passport Agency only allow five services to be registered. As companies grow, sometimes they need to acquire smaller firms to gain access to their passport registrations. For example, CIBT, Abriggs and Travisa are all owned by CIBT. The different brands each have their own passport registrations giving CIBT access to more passport registrations than any other firm.
Passport Service Slots
Each Passport Agency allows the services registered at it to process the same amount of applications (aka “slots”). Some Agencies provide registered expeditor 20 slots per day, others have limits as low as three slots per day. So a small two person operation has the same number of slots as the largest companies in the industry. The small companies usually don’t hit their daily limits while the large companies often max out, especially during peak times between April and September. This is another factor that drives passport service pricing. The small companies no one has heard of can price low because they are only going to have two or three applications per day and they won’t run into limitations. The larger, established companies that everyone wants to work with can get overloaded – they have backup plans to move work around the country as needed, but this does require additional resources and expense to process and therefore they will often have slightly higher fees.
Passport Processing Logistics
Assuming you choose one of the large, nationwide expediting services like ItsEasy, TravelDocs or CIBT (which are highly recommended over the mom and pop type shops due to capabilities, infrastructure, security and support services), your passport application is going to go through a complex internal processing system before it every reaches a State Department office. In addition to the registration and slot allowances mentioned above, different passport agencies also have different requirements on expeditors. Some require the applicant be traveling within a certain period of time, some require copies of documents (which in the case of new passport applications which are sealed in an envelope can be hard unless the applicant provided copies) and each agency sets the time at which applications must be submitted. The Houston agency requires expediting service to submit as early at 7:15am while other agencies like Denver allow submission at 11:00am. Expeditors need to review the documents the client provides, make sure they are complete, figure out what service the client requested, what type of application it is, when they are traveling and what time different agencies allow submission in order to figure out the best options for processing and meeting customers deadlines.
Should You Use a Passport Expediting Company?
This is a question only you can answer. If you are traveling in less than three weeks (or less than a month and require a visa to a foreign country) and you do not live near a passport agency office, then using a passport service is something you should probably do. Yes you will pay a few for their service, but compared to the time and cost of traveling to a passport agency to appear in person (and then going back later to get your passport) you will probably save money (and certainly headache). If you live in a city where there is a passport agency then the decision gets a little tougher. Passport agencies normally work with the public from around 9 or 10 in the morning until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon (often with a mid-day closure for lunch). If you do not work, can afford time off from work or school or otherwise aren’t busy during the day then you can save money scheduling an appointment at a passport agency and going in person. Many people that live in cities with passport agencies will use an expeditor simply out of convenience, but obviously that is a decision only you can make.
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Which Passport Expeditor Should I Use?
In an effort to be non-biased, instead of telling you which company to pick we’re going to tell you how to look for the ones not to pick – and these are probably just general points you could apply to any business or industry. In most cases you are not going to see their actual storefronts or operations departments and you’re going to have to base your decisions mostly off their web sites and their customer support people.
- First off, and no offense to business owners out there who haven’t invested in theirs, but look at their web site. As we mentioned before, there aren’t a lot of expeditors – it is in fact a pretty small industry. If the web site looks like a glorified yellow pages ads, then they likely aren’t serious or big enough to have the resources to build a decent web site. If you don’t have the resources to put together a passable web site then I’m not sure I want you handling my passport application.
- Do they have multiple locations? To be successful in the passport and visa industry you need to have locations throughout the country. Small shops, while very nice we’re sure, simply won’t have the scalability or infrastructure to handle certain requests and can easily become overloaded.
- No toll free number? Not a great sign. Business of this size should provide toll free numbers that should route to dedicated call centers. You really shouldn’t run into any phone trees in this industry as the calls are going to be pretty specific, but you don’t want a company large enough that the people processing the actual work aren’t the ones also spending most of their day on the phone helping clients with basic questions.
- Check the Better Business Bureau. There are a lot of review sites out there (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) but anyone who has owned or operated a business knows these are not always a great reflection of actual user experience. Usually the best method is to google the web site address and bbb, for example, “passportcompany.com bbb”.
- Cancelation fee are bad. Plans change. Trips get cancelled. People find their missing passports. In cases like this you should be able to cancel your order and get your money back. There are companies that charge cancelation fees – some as much as $50 or more. If you’re not sure what their refund policy is, ask them.
How to Work With An Expediting Company
If you’ve read this whole page to this point, you have a pretty good understanding of how passport companies do what they do, so now we need to discuss your role in the process. The most important thing you can do is read the information. The biggest problem with passport applications, whether people are submitting their own passport application or using an expeditor is that they don’t read the information provided. We’re not buying sneakers here people, this is a passport and it’s going to require a few minutes of you undivided attention. When signing up with a passport service, you will either be provided a list of requirements with details and then place your order OR you’ll sing up for the service and then based on your needs they will provide you with your requirements. The big companies help hundreds or thousands of people every day and will have the requirements fine-tuned from years of experience to tell you what you need to know. If you follow their instructions things should go pretty smoothly. If you don’t, you will run into problems. If you don’t supply them with everything they need you will incur additional expense, frustration and in some cases miss your trip. We’ve hear people complain about expeditors saying, “They company made me do this”, or, “The company wouldn’t accept my pictures and made me waste money on a FedEx”. Keep in mind, they aren’t the ones the set the rules, they are trying to help you supply the government with what it wants. It’s very easy to blame the expeditor but in most cases we’ve seen it wasn’t their fault.
What Kind of Guarantee Do I Get Using an Expeditor
Most companies will guarantee their “service”, but that is usually somewhat meaningless. When you sign up with a passport expeditor there will be a few fees – there will be their fee, the government fees, shipping fees and some other little charges. While you will in most cases pay all the fees to the expediting company, most of them are “pass through” fees meaning they are not keeping the money (like government or FedEx fees), so the most you’re going to get a refund for is their service, and that’s assuming they actually did something wrong. If you have backed child support or didn’t mention that passport you lost last month and that delays the processing, it is certainly not something they can be held accountable for. If they don’t process your documents or miss something that they clearly should have caught, then that would be grounds for a credit – again though, as they do not keep most of the fees paid the refund will generally be limited to the fee only.