Update (3/17/14): I wrote this post a few years ago, so please take that with a grain of salt. That being said, based on the happy user comments, it looks like nothing of the process I describe below has changed–everything is still accurate and should work for you.
It was the day before Startup Festival and I was just a few hours away from hopping on a red eye to Montreal. I went to United’s website to check in when I was prompted to enter my passport number. I pull out my passport and take a look at the information, expires July 8th 2011. It was July 12th—shit. My passport expired four days ago and I had a flight to catch.
I call up United and, as I suspected, they inform me that I won’t be able to fly on an expired passport. My only option was to cancel the flight, scramble to renew my passport in a day, and book a new flight tomorrow. This is how I did it.
Disclaimer: I did this in Los Angeles. The process should be the same elsewhere in the nation, but your mileage may vary. Also, I cut this close; there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to renew your passport the same day, but it’s worth a shot.
- Make an appointment. Call up the US Passport Office and use their automated phone system to make an appointment. When I called, they gave me a date late into next week. That wouldn’t work for me so I decided to hangup and show up the next day, sans appointment. Following the appointment process is the recommended way, but I was desperate.
- Get your photo taken. An expired passport means an outdated passport photo. In order to renew your passport, you’ll need new photos. Call around to the local CVS and Walgreens. I was able to find a nearby Walgreens that had a photo department that was open until 10 PM. I went over and had two photos made. It cost me around $10. If you can’t find anything, you can go to the photo place near the Federal Building’s cafeteria the next morning. They open at 7 AM and charge $14 for two photos. (Avoid this since it would cause you to lose your place in line.)
- Fill out the renewal form. Go to the US Passport Office’s website and download the DS-82 form. Print it out and complete it ahead of time so that you’re not scrambling last minute. Don’t staple your photos to it, they’ll take care of it at the office. When filling out the form, you’ll want the passport book, not the passport card. (I accidentally checked “both” and had to change it later.)
- Print out your itinerary. In order to renew your passport at the last minute, you need to be able to prove that it’s urgent. Print our your itinerary that shows that you’re flying soon. (I attempted to use my hotel reservation, but they wanted to see a flight itinerary.)
The next morning, bring with you:
- a copy of your itinerary
- your DS-82
- your expired passport
- your wallet
- Line up early. At the time of this writing, the Los Angeles US Passport Office opens at 7 AM. (Check the website for your location’s hours.) I woke up at 5 AM and was at the office by 5:30 AM. There were three people already lined up in front of me. Get there early. If you don’t have an appointment, you’ll need to line up at the “Will Call” windows. You should be able to see them when you arrive at the Federal Building. They’re labeled “Will Call A” and “Will Call B”. There will be two lines, one at will call for people that don’t have appointments, and one at the door to the passport office for those that do have appointments.
- Make your case. At around 7 AM the window will open and they’ll take people one at a time. Be polite, show your itinerary, and explain your situation. “My passport expired and I need to fly out tonight. I don’t have an appointment, is there anything you can do?” The person will give you a ticket with a number on it and tell you to go wait in the line with people that have appointments. That ticket is essentially your appointment.
- Wait. You’ll slowly make your way through the appointment line to security. The security check is just like the one you’d find at an airport. Turn off your cell phones (this is required) and leave as much as you can in your car (don’t bring a laptop or anything more than your paperwork and old passport). Once in the building you’ll head to the Passport office and stand in another line. Eventually you’ll get to the window where the clerk will look your paperwork over and give you another ticket. You’ll then sit in the waiting area and wait for your number to be called. Cell phones and laptops are not allowed, so chat up the people next to you or bring a book—the analog kind.
- Pay the fee. Eventually, your number will be called and you’ll go up to a window. (By now it was around 9 AM.) The clerk will look over your paperwork once more and you’ll pay $110 to renew the passport and $60 to expedite the process, so $170 total. (These prices were at the time of writing, they may increase. They accept credit cards.) If everything goes well, they’ll give you a receipt with a time to come back to pick up your passport. Typically, it’s between 1 PM and 3 PM that same day. If you got this far, there’s a very good chance you’ll be getting your passport.
- Wait some more. Go grab lunch at In-n-Out and come back to the Federal Building around 2 PM. (The receipt says to show up between 1 PM and 3 PM, but they never have it ready that early.) Stand in the will call line and give the clerk your receipt. They’ll either have your passport ready, or ask you to wait a bit longer. I ended up getting mine at 3 PM, right when the Passport office closes.
There you have it, a passport in nine hours. Now, never do this again. Be prudent and renew by mail well in advance next time. Happy travels. Tips are totally unnecessary, but always welcome :) My Paypal/Venmo address is firstname.lastname@example.org