Wednesday, January 09, 2008
U.S. Passport Renewal (By Mail)
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.