Before I slung my backpack over my shoulder and embarked on a life of full-time travel, I obsessively flipped through my passport at every opportunity to admire the few stamps I had, dreaming that one day it would full of marks and visas from all over the world.
Well guess what? Dreams come true, folks. Two weeks ago I landed in Hanoi and realized that I only had one empty page left after getting my new Vietnam visa and stamp. I smiled with pride at my nearly-full passport. It felt good!
Sure, I knew when I headed to my next country, I’d need more pages. But I wasn’t worried – I’d done my research before I left. I knew that it was as simple as going to the embassy in Hanoi, applying for new pages, paying a fee and having them added right then and there. I had a couple days there to get it done.
But to my horror, when I went to make an appointment at the Hanoi Embassy online, this was plastered on the site: The U.S. Department of State will no longer add visa pages into U.S. passports beginning January 1, 2016. If you need more visa pages while abroad, you have to apply for an new passport.
Yikes! This isn’t great news for travelers on the move – obviously a new passport takes time. I was annoyed with myself for not doing it in Guatemala in December, but how could I know the law was changing? I went to the Embassy and discussed my options with the staff. If you’re in a similar situation, I suggest you do the same, because it varies by country. Here is what you’ll likely be offered:
Option #1: The embassy gives you an emergency passport, good for up to one year and only for essential travel – enough to get you back to the States to apply for a proper passport. (Not a valid option for me.)
Option #2: Apply for a new passport and wait for it to arrive, which can take as little as a week or as long as a month, depending on the country. The Hanoi office quoted me 7 to 10 days, but when I emailed the US embassy in Bali, my next stop, just to see how long it would take there (if I was able to get into the country with only one empty page), and they quoted me 3-4 weeks.
The application process is the same as it is at home, and you can opt for a bigger 52 page book if you plan to do a lot of international travel over the next 10 years. Costs are the same too – $110 for the new book. I begrudgingly filled out the forms, got new photos taken (my hair looked awesome after being a motorcycle taxi) and handed over the cash.
If you are in the same predicament, I do have good news: You may be able to get your new passport abroad much quicker than you would in the States. I got my new 52-page book in 7 days and only paid the base cost of $110. That quick turnaround would have cost a fortune back home. It appears that passports for US citizens abroad get priority in the production line! So if you’re needing a new passport soon (within a year) and you’re heading abroad for a chunk of time, it may be worth it to get a new one at an embassy versus waiting the standard 6 weeks in the States (without paying for it to be expedited).
The sad part was I had to throw my travel plans out the window. I’d been planning to head down the coast to Ho Chi Minh, where my ticket out of the country was from. Luckily, I hadn’t booked much, and I switched some things up to loop back to Hanoi to pick up my new passport when it was ready. I was bummed to be missing out on the south of the country, but it’s worth it knowing I’ll be able to enter Indonesia and the rest of my planned destinations with plenty of free pages.
And obviously, there’s a geeky twinge of excitement because I’ve got a brand-spankin-new passport to fill with stamps!