Wednesday, January 09, 2008

U.S. Passport Renewal (By Mail)

The XPack 500 next to a B5 envelope with my old passport and a very expensive money order.

Last year, my husband went through a panic when his passport had expired just before he planned to go home for a visit so this year, I was keeping an eye on my passport and sent it off to the U.S. Embassy by mail about one month before it was due to expire.

As my husband and I researched the method for applying for a renewal, we found that some things had changed since last year. For one thing, it used to be okay to apply for your passport by post in Japan using U.S. cash. Now, you have to send an international money order in U.S. currency. This is very annoying both because you often have to wait in a long line to access the part of the post office where such things are done (it took a half hour) and because it costs 2000 yen (~$18) as a fee for such money orders. The fee for the new passport itself is $67 so you're out of pocket $85 just for the money order. Also, when purchasing the money order, the postal worker seemed a little paranoid about who was buying it and why. He required that my husband show his foreign resident's identification card and meticulously checked it to make sure the purchaser's name and address were exactly as on the card. We've bought these types of things before and the level of scrutiny has gone up a bit.

Another part of this that has changed is that passports can only be printed in the U.S. so it takes longer to have them processed. That means I send it to the embassy then they send it somewhere back home then it gets shuttled back to the embassy then back to me. I'm guessing this is related to changes in security measures in the U.S. and part of an effort to make getting fake passports harder, but it seems an incredible waste and more likely to introduce the potential for things to get fouled up as more fingers will be in the pie during the process.

Additionally, in Japan, they want you to send a self-addressed XPack 500 envelope along with the application, money order, passport, and two pictures. These envelopes cost 500 yen ($4.60) and are over-sized so you can't send one unless you use a very large envelope or a second XPack 500 with the SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) folded in half inside of the other.

The Xpacks are actually a pretty good choice for this sort of thing since they provide bar codes and tracking numbers which you can hang on to in case things go wrong. That means I can trace the parcels if they are lost though I have no control over the middle journey from Japan to the U.S. and back again. I only can track from my address to the embassy and the embassy back to me.

All totaled, the expense of a passport renewal is a little on the high side. Getting the right size photos taken at a booth costs 700 yen ($6.40) and you have to be very careful about getting the right size pictures as most standard passport pictures in Japan are too small. Even if you have a big enough picture, it has to be carefully trimmed down to 2" x 2" as the larger ones are too tall. The photos added to the cost of the money order, application fee, and two Expacks totals about $95 (about 10,000 yen) just for a little booklet with my picture in it and some personal data. I guess someone has to feed the bureaucracy. I just wish it weren't me.


mjgolli said...

The passport process is pretty annoying in the US, too. We now need a passport to get back and forth to Canada. I've never been to Canada, and I have wanted to go, but it is not a big enough draw to pay $67.

I'll get a passport one of these days...if and when I plan a trip to Australia or Japan. It will then be worth it.

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

I also heard recently that all new U.S. passport photos must be without smiles but haven't been able to verify that yet. I suppose the cost of getting a new passport is enough reason not to smile!

Shari said...

mjgolli: I've heard you also need one for Mexico. I've driven to Canada several times to visit Niagra Falls with friends, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done that if a passport were required (as it was spur of the moment).

absolutely tokyo!: The instructions I got said nothing about smiles but were very fussy not only about photo size but the size of the head within the photo. I wouldn't be shocked though if they didn't want people to smile for fear that it'd "fool" people into thinking terrorists were "nice guys."

Thanks to both of you for commenting!

Anonymous said...

What about the visa inside the passport? Do they give you something stating you have a visa (to be in Japan for 5 years) until you get the new passport?

Shari said...

This is a good question and I was thinking someone might ask it.

If you get a new passport and there's a visa in the old one, you have to keep both passports around until you get a new visa. When you go to immigration, you have to take them both so they can see the old one before issuing a new one. If you leave he country, you have to take both of them and show them to the immigration authorities. Essentially, you're shackled to both of them until you're issued a new visa.

I'll also have to go to the local government office when the new passport comes and let them register it.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Helen said...

When I renewed my passport last year, I took my new one and my old one to the immigration office and they did the transfer of visa then and there. It's a bit of a pain for me as Immigration is in another city, but the actual switch took less than 10 minutes. They also transfered my re-entry permit for me.

After that, I went to city hall to have my Alien Registration Card updated with the new passport number.

It's not a difficult thing to do. If you look lost and helpless and hold out your two passports, they get the idea!

Then you don't have to travel with two passports.

Shari said...

Helen: You're right and I completely forgot about this! In fact, I think you may have mentioned this before, but my mind is getting leakier as I get older.

For folks in Tokyo who have to go to the new "Tokyo Regional Immigration" office near the big pile of garbage far from central Tokyo, it's simply not worth making the transfer. Not only does it take a long time to get to the office but it's always a long wait. If we lived somewhere where the lines weren't so long, we'd probably consider it.

ターナー said...

I wonder why it costs more to apply in person at the consulate in Fukuoka.

Shari said...

Applying in person ends up costing you less in money out of pocket because you don't have to pay 2000 yen for a money order. On the other hand, the time you waste (unless you happen to be in the area of the consulate and get waited on pretty fast), makes it less worth it to take the least in the case of Tokyo.

The renewal fee is always $67 (everywhere in the world).

Anonymous said...

illegal for the post office workers to ask for your registration card this card can only be requested by Police Officers (with probable cause)the Coast Gard and immigration ONLY.