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10/04/2013

Getting a passport during a government shutdown

Sorry, folks - stock imagery once again. I figured since the government was in shutdown, it gave me an excuse to mail it in - no pun intended. Next week, I promise I'll go back to authentic photography once again. Scout's honor! (Ignore the fact I wasn't a Boy Scout.)We’re now into day four of the government shutdown. With the government in deadlock and without a spending bill, many aspects of government services have been affected. Directly affecting travelers continues to be the closures of national parks, monuments, and museums. But as we outlined earlier in the week on the Travel Insure blog, many travelers should not be affected by the government shutdown, as front-line staff are considered “essential personnel.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that other governments, such as Germany, have issued a travel advisory to U.S. bound travelers about potential delays and closed monuments and museums. But so far, despite working without pay in many cases, those essential personnel have been keeping everything moving forward. Border crossings remain open, TSA officers have remained on duty, and there have been no warnings of furloughing air traffic controllers – very different from what we heard when the sequester was a threat to many travelers across the country.

Among the services that were feared to be affected by the government shutdown were American Consular Affairs – that is, the processing of passports and Visas for applicants. The State Department Travel website (http://state.travel.gov) states: “In the event of a lapse in appropriations, the Department of State will continue passport and visa operations as well as provide critical services to U.S. citizens overseas.” Additionally, the State Department states that routine passport service, from application to send-out, remains at four weeks. And blogger The Points Guy reports that offices to apply for and interview for trusted traveler programs (such as Global Entry and NEXUS) remain open as well – despite some unplanned maintenance to the GOES online application system earlier this week.

(Ed Note: Much to my surprise, after interviewing for my NEXUS card last Friday, I received my card in the mail on Thursday – completing the cycle in less than a working week. I’m unsure if my card was made before or after the shutdown happened. But even if it was made the day before the shutdown began, it would still mean that it was mailed out after the events happened as they did. While my evidence is anecdotal, it still bodes well for others applying for trusted travel status during the government shutdown).

So during this period of government shutdown, how can one actually get a passport or Visa? There are still several ways to make sure that you can get the documents you need to get where you’re going, no matter if you have international travel planned in advance, or just want to have the liberty to go.

For foreign travelers:

  • ESTA remains online and automated
    For those traveling from countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, the ESTA service remains online and available for you to use. Just remember the terms of your Visa, make sure you’re aware of how the Visa Waiver Program works, and apply online. U.S. Consular Services may still be open in your country, so feel free to call your local U.S. Consulate with questions or concerns.
  • Visa appointments remain open
    A quick search of the State Department website still had appointments available for travelers who wish to obtain their Visa before traveling to the U.S. During the government shutdown, these offices should remain open, and your appointments should remain valid – but it would not hurt to call and check in the event that the Consulate does close for any reason.

For domestic travelers going abroad:

  • Post offices remain open & accepting passports
    Unlike many federal offices, post offices are self-sustaining, and therefore able to stay open. And every post office in the United States is also a U.S. Passport acceptance facility. You can still have your passport photos taken there, and mail your passport to the regional office for processing. However, know that those offices may be slowed down or closed based on demand, federal building closures, or other unforeseen situations.
  • Trusted Traveler offices remain open
    Because of the role that CBP plays in security (given their “essential personnel” status), their offices at border crossings should remain open, and interviews for trusted traveler programs (such as Global Entry and NEXUS) remain valid.
    Once again, make sure you call ahead of time to make sure their facilities are open and not subject to closure, as some offices may be located in federal buildings (which are subject to closure)
  • Some passport centers may not be available due to closure
    Several passport facilities offering service for travelers who need a passport in a hurry may be closed, due to their location in federal buildings. These locations include: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, El Paso, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York. Make sure your appointment is still valid at these locations – and if you are unable to hold your appointment due to closure, know your options. For instance: the New York office may be closed as a result of the government shutdown, but the Connecticut office is not located in a federal building – and may still be open for business.

While the shutdown is affecting many travelers in many different ways, with a little planning, you can minimize the impact that it has on your travels, wherever they may take you. Are you seeing any impact on your travels so far due to the shutdown? Let me know in the comments below!

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This is an interesting article on how to get a passport during a government shutdown. Thank you, keep sharing.

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