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On the Spot: There are ways to speed up passport processing

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In the April 14 On the Spot column ["She Can't Wait for Her Next Passport"], reader Lisa Kim Davis of West Los Angeles expressed her concern about having her passport at the ready. Called away for business travel, often at a moment's notice, she couldn't risk having that document out of her control for the four to six weeks that regular passport processing would take. Further, a passport with less than six months until its expiration could present a problem in some countries that insist on a document that has at least three and sometimes six months until it's out of date. The solution: an expedited passport.

You can get an expedited passport through the State Department, or, if your travel plans demand it, you can go to the U.S. Passport Agency at 11000 Wilshire Blvd. Or you can hire someone, known as a passport expediter, to get it for you. Here's how the State Department describes them: "Expediting service companies are private companies that deliver passport applications to passport agencies and retrieve the passports when issued; customers pay the company directly for this convenience. They are not contractors or employees of the State Department's passport agencies, but instead private companies, registered with our agencies, that customers can hire."

Expediters I spoke with note that besides the savings in time, such services also can fend off problems upfront. The requirements for passport renewal or first-time application (found at http://www.travel.state.gov) can be as complicated as whipping up beef Wellington. In either process, a false step can result in delays in the document or in dinner. The latter can wait; departures cannot. An expert versed in passport rules and regulations can usually spot a problem before it becomes a problem.

How do you find a good expediter? In days past, you might have wanted a bricks-and-mortar office; with overnight delivery services and the Internet, that may not be as necessary as it once was, said Steve Fox of FastPortPassport.com, based in New York. He once had numerous retail locations but has closed them, he said. But you can still talk to a passport specialist by phone, he added.

Price is another factor, but it shouldn't determine your decision, said Rob Smith, president of the National Assn. of Passport and Visa Services, which is made up of companies that expedite passports and visas (another issue the frequent last-minute traveler may face).

What about the size of the company: Is bigger better? Not necessarily, Smith said. Look at how long the company has been in business and ask whether it is registered with the State Department so the representative can get those important hurry-up appointments.

We become so focused on the logistical and financial questions, we may lose sight of security concerns that Smith brought to my attention: Does the company do background checks on its employees? And where does the company put your precious information at the end of a day?

As for background checks, "Firms that do such screening recognize the importance of protecting the documents and personal identifiable information (PII) of its clients and [are] willing to pay extra costs for such background checks of its employees and other security precautions such as shredding documents," he told me in an email. A background check doesn't ensure that someone won't harvest your info, but it does help eliminate anyone who might have a questionable history.

You'll also want a company that locks up your info at the end of the day and, as Smith notes, shreds old information. (On its Web page about identity theft, the U.S. Department of Justice quotes Shakespeare: "But he that filches from me my good name / Robs me of that which not enriches him / And makes me poor indeed." Who says the government has no poetry in its soul?)

Once you've settled on a firm, the next question you may want to explore is this: Would my life be easier if I had two U.S. passports? Possibly, but you must meet a list of conditions for this special two-year document. The State Department doesn't issue them to make your life easier, noting that such documents may be the solution for airline flight personnel, executives of multinational companies or foreign journalists. You won't get this second two-year document, the State Department notes, if, say, your passport happens to be with your household goods that are in transit. To read about the regulations, go to http://www.lat.ms/XFdxwF.

Which is a good reminder that you need to keep your passport safe. If it's in your sock drawer, think about moving it to a more secure location. You may worry about whether an expediter is handling your personal info with all due care, but you also might want to ask yourself the same question.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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