The process to renew a passport in America is needlessly slow and archaic. I went through that 20th Century, postage-stamp song and dance a few years ago before going to Brazil. I never spared a second thought about what it's like in other countries.
A friend's tweet changed that made me think of this, especially when another Twitter user from UK chimed into the conversation later:
To renew a passport, you must:
– Print a form
– Provide a new physical photo of your face
– Pay with a check
– Mail everything with a stamp
All 19th/20th century technologies, while your passport is scanned and processed with 21st century technologies. Time to fix this!
â€” Stacy Holmstedt (@StacyHolmstedt) June 29, 2019
Cost and Time to Renew a Passport
Of course, I wanted to confirm what she said, so I headed to the relevant US government website to double check. As is typical for so many government services, there's a lengthy word soup to say what my friend was able to say in one single tweet.Â
And I found that a passport book costs $110 while a passport card is $30 (get both for the bargain price of $140!). You send your info in along with a check or money order — it's not clear if you're required to chisel this out of stone — and wait ... and wait ... and wait ... 6-8 weeks. Want it faster? That's another $60, which brings the time down to 2-3 weeks.
Now, contrast this to Merry Ol' England.
The price is slightly less in England: Â£75.50 ($95.43 as of right now) to renew online. Tack on another 10 pounds, or quid, or whatever you call them to do it old-school via mail. That's right: They charge you more to use snail mail. As it should be. England also has services that can reduce the renewal time to ... 4 hours. There's also a less-expensive one-week option. Point is, passport renewal in England is far more efficient than it is in the US.
A British traveler will receive their new passport in about three weeks.
Why is it So Hard to Renew a Passport in America?
Before we even get to why it’s so hard to renew a passport in the US, keep in mind that only 40 percent of Americans even have a passport to renew. If you think that sounds impressively high, think again. In Canada, 66 percent of people have passports. In the UK, that goes up to 76 percent. This is all according to Forbes. I'm actually unable to find passport rankings by country, which is very interesting. I'd like to know where the US ranks among other countries, and I have not been able to find it.
I don't think the US government deliberately set out to make it difficult for people to travel internationally. But I do think it has taken advantage of the situation and has little incentive to improve the process.
Consider, also, that generous vacation time from employers is rare in the United States.
Those are just two anti-travel practices in the US. The net effect is that fewer people from the US see other countries.
So Fewer Americans Visit Other Countries. What's the Problem?
Americans have an inflated sense of their quality of life. There is a general belief, that's unsubstantiated by any first-hand evidence, that their standards of living are higher. When most indexes to measure quality of life don’t even rank the US in the top 10, you have to be concerned.
And people who never visit other countries will never have that belief challenged. That's not good at all for long-term quality of life in this country. Travel is a great antidote for being stuck in our ways. If you think you’re the best, you have little incentive to find ways to improve.
Ultimately, the US government knows that. And its elected officials are actually pretty OK with the way things are, from my perspective. People who don't travel don't ask uncomfortable questions about why our public transit isn't better. Why we can't renew passports online. Why we can't walk into a clinic in a rural area and get government-funded, fast, efficient healthcare.
Travel scares the status quo by creating a more informed electorate.
I know this is kind of a downer, but it's worth considering.
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