My husband hasn't been back home to visit his family in about 7 years and I haven't been back in about 15 years. Part of the reason for this is that we can't afford it and part of it is that we both are able to stay in contact with family now on a daily or weekly basis for "free" via the Internet. As I've mentioned before, I talk with my sister nearly every day via Skype now. My husband speaks with his family about once a week.
Some time ago, my husband started thinking about going back for another visit now that our situation is settled a bit financially and he'd like to see his parents face to face again so he set his plans in motion to go back. He researched fares and considered when to take the time off from work and proceeded to purchase a ticket and travel insurance. After chasing paperwork and a travel agent for a month, he paid for his ticket and was days away from having to request his time off from work.
This morning, he started to fill out some residence status paperwork for my Japanese income tax forms which the tax office people neglected to give him when he filled the other forms out at the tax office in March and dug out our passports to have a look. It was at this point that he discovered that his passport expired in mid March and his travel situation is now in jeopardy.
Both my husband and I were laboring under the misconception that his passport expired on his birthday this year. We were confusing it with gaijin cards (Japanese identification cards which we all must carry at all times) which expire on one's birthday. He's currently 26 days away from his planned departure date and has to get a new passport.
When you're in Japan and your passport is due to expire (or has expired or run out of pages due to too many used pages), you have to apply via mail or in person at your country's embassy. My husband called them to see how long it would take and they said 3 weeks. It's also going to cost $67. And just for reference, you have to pay for a new passport in your home country's currency.
There is expedited service for passports which costs double that of normal processing but such rapid service (3 days) is not possible outside of the United States. We would be deliriously happy to pay double to get this done in a shorter time if that option were open to us. We're not even sure if it's possible for a renewal in the U.S. It may only be possible for new passports.
This would seem like he'd be just scraping by on his departure deadline but it's not that simple. He both needs a new passport and to go to the Japanese immigration office and get a re-entry permit so his work visa isn't canceled when he leaves the country. He leaves on the 21st of May, a Monday, so we had a very stressful time today determining what to do. He had to determine whether or not he'd roll the dice on the new passport coming through or not. The main problem is that the later you cancel an air ticket, the more money you lose on the deal. If you cancel within 0-4 days, you lose 50%.
At this point, we're already set to lost 28,000 yen ($236) even if he cancels as early as now. If he waits until after May 4th, that goes up to 38,000 yen ($320). Fortunately, or unfortunately, the penalty for waiting until the end isn't much more than waiting past May 4th since 50% of the ticket price is 38,000 yen (we lose another 8,000 yen on insurance regardless of when he cancels). So, we're probably going to completely roll the dice and hope for the best.
My husband believes, perhaps quite rightly, that the embassy probably gives an outside time estimate in order to avoid complaints from people who are in tight situations such as ours and don't get their passports back in time. I'm hoping he's right.