How to Choose a Passport Expeditor

How to Choose a Passport Expeditor

If you're looking to renew a passport or get a visa in a hurry, an expeditor can be a smart option. Jennifer V. Cole explains the benefits as we test four agencies.

Passport and visa expeditor services, once a tool mainly of harried business travelers, are now de rigueur for many leisure travelers as well, who turn to them to renew passports, get extra pages added, or apply for visas to Brazil, China, India, and other countries that require them. And with the surge this year in passport applications, expeditors are being widely used as a way of jumping the long lines (though even their powers are limited).

Why spend the extra money on an expeditor, adding hundreds of dollars to passport and consular fees?First, it saves you time (more trip, less standing around in line); second, you should factor in the money you would otherwise spend schlepping around to embassies and passport offices, for expedited services. Take note: the number of days promised by expeditors for turnaround refers to processing days. Unless you're dropping off and picking up your documents in person, you need to allow extra time for delivery.

Here, four other tips to keep in mind:

  • Apply Early Though expeditors can reduce wait time from weeks to one or two days, they don't have an endless supply of passes to the front of the line. According to Rob Smith, executive director of the National Association of Passport and Visa Services (NAPVS), a company can file only a limited number of applications per day. If it has reached its quota by the time you apply (only three same-day applications are allowed from each expeditor per day at the Chicago Passport Agency, for instance), you may have to wait. Look for a company with locations around the country; they are likely registered with several Passport Agency offices and thus have more allotments.
  • Getting it Right A very basic, but important, service an expeditor provides is verifying that all of your information is accurate. If there are any typos or incorrect dates, the document won't be valid. And as Tom Collins, CEO of Perry International, points out, "Immigration officials don't try to help you at the borders."
  • Location, Location, Location Make sure the expeditor you choose has a physical office (not just a toll-free number), and consider the location. "An expeditor should literally walk your documentation through the process, if needed," says Chris Davis, CEO of G3 Visas & Passports, "so it's best to use one near consulates, embassies, and passport offices."
  • Call Around When trying to decide between expeditors, call a few. If you constantly go to voice mail, or they don't return your calls promptly, it's going to be difficult to follow up on your application or get any questions answered.

travel.state.gov

Up-to-date information on passport rules and application procedures as well as details on foreign entry requirements worldwide, including visa application procedures.

NAPVS

An umbrella organization representing the passport and visa service industry; find links to its 20 member companies (napvs.org).

getapassportnow.com

Sponsored by the Travel Industry Association and Travel Business Roundtable, this site gives clear, easy-to-understand reports on the recent changes in passport law for U.S., Canadian, and Mexican citizens and provides links to government sites for passport application information.

National Passport Information Center

Schedule appointments at passport agencies and check the status of your application (877/487-2778; travel.state.gov; open weekdays from 6 a.m. to midnight, weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

We put expeditors to the test. Five T+L editors simultaneously applied for a Cambodian single-entry tourist visa—one going directly through the Cambodian embassy and the other four using expeditors. Below, the results:

Company Name and Info: a Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors

abriggs.com

How many days to process visa: 3 business days

Cost: $135

Summary: >Easy-to-navigate Web site; courteous and informed customer service reps (answered the phone on the third ring).

Company Name and Info: CIBT

us.cibt.com

How many days to process visa: 3 business days

Cost: $286

Summary: A total hands-on approach: easy to reach a live person (they even contacted us upon receipt to verify information); up-to-date status checks on the Web site. The only downside?The price tag.

Company Name and Info: DMS Visa International

dmsvisainternational.com

How many days to process visa: 3 business days

Cost: $124

Summary: Though DMS delivered the visa when promised, customer service was abysmal. We called several times and were put straight into voice mail—it was two days before they returned our calls.

Company Name and Info: G3 Visas & Passports

g3visa.com

How many days to process visa: 6 business days

Cost: $84

Summary: Extremely thorough and professional (a travel itinerary was requested to ensure necessary documents weren't overlooked) but a little slow (they took almost as long as the embassy itself).

Company Name and Info: Royal Embassy of Cambodia

embassyofcambodia.org

How many days to process visa: 7 business days

Cost: $20

Summary: Very DIY—no one's there to hold your hand.


At seven U.S. airports, there's a new alternative to turning over your $50, four-ounce bottle of perfume to a TSA screener. Chicago O'Hare, West Palm Beach, and Portland International are some locations that now have MailSafe Express stations (itemreturn.com; from $8.95 plus postage) in their security areas. Passengers can send prohibited items home—without losing their place in line. If any of your items face confiscation, be they scissors, shaving cream, or cheese knives, a screener places them in a padded envelope, drops it in the ATM-like kiosk, and swipes your credit card. —Jennifer Welbel


Ever been bumped from your seat because of an overbooked flight?You're not alone. Along with rising fuel prices and longer delays, airlines are booting passengers now more than ever. The good news: the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering boosting the maximum compensation from $400 to $1,248, which could deter airlines from overbooking. There is a potential downside, however. Selling more tickets than there are seats available allows carriers to offer cheaper fares, because they don't have to absorb the cost of empty spots in case of no-shows. —Stirling Kelso


It's no secret that flying today can be costly, especially when multiple destinations are involved. Here, a collection of money-saving passes for air travel around the globe.

NOTE: Travelers must redeem individual "coupons" for each leg of their trip.

Africa

Oneworld Visit Africa Pass

Participating Airlines: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, JAL Japan Airlines, LAN, Malév Hungarian Airlines, Qantas and Royal Jordanian Airlines
Travel To: Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
Details: Providing service to seven cities in four countries, travelers can take as many flights as they'd like (with a minimum of two flights).
Pros: The "open-dated" option allows for flexible travel dates and times for any flights, once you've confirmed the first destination for your trip.
Cons: Travelers must make reservations by phone through a travel agent, or a oneworld carrier.
Average Savings: Savings vary.
For More Info: www.oneworld.com

Asia

Discovery Airpass

Participating Airlines: Bangkok Airways, Siem Reap Airways International, and Lao Airlines
Travel To: Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
Details: With the Discovery Airpass, fliers can purchase between 3-6 coupons, which are valid for two months after the date of the first flight.
Pros: Flexibility. Once the first flight is booked, travelers can use their coupons to purchase tickets whenever they're ready to move on to the next location, instead of booking all at once.
Cons: Only one stopover allowed per city.
Average Savings: 30 percent.
For More Info: www.bangkokair.com

Europe

Skyteam Europe Pass

Participating Airlines: Aeroflot, Air France, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, KLM Dutch Airlines, and Air Europa
Travel To: 44 countries throughout Europe
Details: Available to all travelers flying round–trip to Europe. Travelers must purchase a minimum of three coupons and can visit each city no more than twice.
Pros: Travelers need only book the first European leg of their trip before flying; they can book the rest at their leisure.
Cons: If a transfer requires a change in airline, travelers must use an additional coupon.
Average Savings: Savings vary.
For More Information: www.skyteam.com

Middle East

Arabian Airpass

Participating Airlines: Emirates
Travel To: Alexandria, Amman, Bahrain, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Dammam, Doha, Kuwait, Muscat, Riyadh, Sana'a, and Tehran
Details: With the Arabian Airpass, travelers can fly to over 13 cities in the Middle East; coupons are valid for three months from departure date.
Pros: For most flights, reservations can be changed with no charge.
Cons: No additional airlines for travelers to choose from.
Bonus Feature: For travelers planning to spend more than 14 days abroad, Emirates can assist travelers in obtaining a "visit visa" (also known as tourist visa) for Dubai ($55).
Average Savings: Up to 30 percent.
For More Info: www.emirates.com

North America

SkyTeam America Pass

Participating Airlines: Aeromexico, Continental, Delta, and Northwest
Travel To: Anywhere within the continental United States, Mexico, and Canada
Details: Available with the purchase of the SkyTeam Round-the-World ticket or a round-trip transatlantic, transpacific, or intercontinental ticket on any SkyTeam carrier's flight. Travelers may purchase 3-10 coupons, which are valid for 60 days.
Pros: Two stopovers per city
Cons: Alaska and Hawaii are not eligible states for travel
Average Savings: Savings vary.
For More Info: www.skyteam.com

South America

South America Pass

Participating Airlines: Aerolineas Agentinas
Travel To: Any country in South America; travelers must choose at least two, but no more than five.
Details: The South America Pass offers up to 10 flight coupons, and allows two stopovers in Argentina and one in other countries.
Pros: All rates are calculated based on the number of miles flown; with increased distances come increased savings.
Cons: No additional airlines for travelers to choose from.
Average Savings: Savings vary.
For More Info: www.aerolineas.com

South Pacific

Air New Zealand South Pacific Airpass

Participating Airlines: Air New Zealand
Travel To: 36 locations in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific
Details: Available to non-residents of New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Norfolk, Samoa, Rarotonga and Tahiti
Pros: Travelers can purchase 2-10 coupons prior to arrival; up to 10 additional coupons may be purchased thereafter.
Cons: No stopovers permitted.
Average Savings: Savings vary.
For More Information: www.airnewzealand.com

—Reported by Josh Pramis and Charlotte Savino

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