My Story: Renewing a Passport in a Post Pandemic World
We’ve all heard lots of stories on the problems on renewing a passport in a post pandemic world. With an upcoming international trip planned for the Maldives, I had timed out on my ten year Canadian Passport, which would be expiring in the summer of 2023. Without any options to extend, I was required to renew it. How would my experience fare? Let’s just say it didn’t go all that quickly…
My Story: Renewing a Canadian Passport in a Post Pandemic World
A passport is an essential international travel document. If you plan on flying anywhere, you need a passport as a document to guarantee your citizenship.
My Travel Circumstances:
I had a ten year passport that was issued by the Government of Canada in the year 2013. It had thirty two pages of glorious passport stamps. I had spent many trips organizing my passport using creative post it note covers on the visa pages, so that I wouldn’t run out of passport stamp real estate before the passport did.
With an upcoming trip to the Maldives planned in March 2023, I checked the entry requirements to enter the Maldives. Unfortunately, they required six months of validity left on a passport. My current passport was set to expire in the summer of 2023. I was stuck! Come Christmas Holidays time, I passed the calendar period when I needed to have six months of validity time left on the passport itself.
I needed to renew. But how exactly?
The Service Standard for Renewing a Canadian Passport:
The health pandemic has not been kind to Canadian Passport applications. After a several months of full closures of all Canadian passport offices, the offices were now open once again. Functioning, sort of…
Unfortunately, along with the offices being re-opened, there were several horror stories floating around in the news and on Reddit with how long it took to get a passport re-issued. Along with a mad rush on the supply side to get travel re-going again, came an avalanche of renewal applications.
Officially, the Government of Canada offered several routes to re-apply for a passport for those within Canada:
- Apply in Person at a Passport Canada Office
- Apply in Person at a Service Canada Office
- Mail in a Completed Application
The service standards for producing a passport were all over the map. The service standards were listed as:
- Twenty (20) days plus mailing time for mail in applications
- Ten (10) day processing time for Passport / Service Canada offices that offer 10 day processing
- Expedited two to nine day (2-9) processing time for Passport Office applications picked up at the Passport office
- Urgent Pick Up (end of next business day) for passport applications picked up at the Passport Office
While ten days doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable amount of time to wait for a passport, I had a trip planned in less than sixty days. I wasn’t so inclined to leave it that long in case something went wrong. This was especially given the amount of “world of mouth” stories out there about Passport Canada grossly missing the service standards.
Locating a Passport Office:
I decided that I wasn’t going to risk missing my trip by “mailing in” the passport under the “twenty day, plus mailing time” service standard. I made the decision I was going to attend a Passport Office for processing.
Despite living in a metro environment of Vancouver, Canada (with a population base nearing four million persons) the Government of Canada only runs three (3) passport offices. Not all offer urgent or express pick up.
While the Passport Office website advertised the ability to make an appointment, I was unable to get any appointments at any of the three Vancouver area Passport Offices for the next sixty days, through until the end of February 2023.
I was able to locate some appointments in the Edmonton, Alberta passport office, which was a 90 minute flight away. I was also able to locate some appointments in the Kelowna Office towards the end of February; about a 450 kilometre drive away and about two tanks of gas worth away.
I decided that I didn’t want to drive, or fly over the holiday period and would at least make an attempt at my local offices prior to this extraordinary travelling step.
Deciding to Walk In to a Passport Office:
Step One: The Temporary Hold Room = Three hours and Thirty Minutes
I decided I was going to have to “Walk In” to a Passport Office and brave any queues that might be there. Unfortunately, the Passport Office keeps banker hours. They are only open between 8:30 AM and 4 PM on weekdays in my area and are closed on every weekend. and statutory holiday. Why they haven’t moved to a weekends and evening model, I’ll probably never understand.
Over the Christmas Holidays, I turned up at the Surrey Passport Office. The passport office was guarded Corps of Commissionaires security guards. I was immediately directed upstairs into an overflow office.
Walking upstairs, I arrived to a retail storefront that had been taken over in a temporary manner as a result of a pandemic store closure. Passport Office Canada had set up a space in this abandoned retail store as a temporary reception for it’s passport applicants.
I arrived to this no mans land about fifteen minutes after opening. When I walked in, I was put into an “Applying / Renewal Line”.
I was given a ticker tape coupon with the number “D74” on it. Within 15 minutes of opening, there were apparently already seventy four applicants ahead of me. I would later learn that line ups at this location typically start at 7 AM, or ninety minutes before the regular business hours of the passport office’s opening time.
I was relegated to these comfortable chairs for an undetermined wait. With no obvious counters or pacing, I was committed for an unknown period of time.
I would end up waiting patiently on these chairs for about three and a half hours.
During my time here, an older government type woman would make several public service announcements in a slightly cranky tone:
- “I recommend you go away and mail in your passport application if you don’t need it”
- “This isn’t a field trip. Your kids shouldn’t be here and won’t be allowed into the Passport Office unless they are applying”
- “I don’t need my Commissionaires coming up telling me people are trying to crash the line”
These comments were met with uncomfortable, but committed glances by other applicants around the room.
Like waiting for a standby flight, I chatted with a few people while I was waiting based on our new found group kinship. There wasn’t anything else to do, and a smart phone can only keep you engaged for so long.
I met several people whom had mailed in their passports and had been waiting for six months for it to be processed. I had a little feeling of dread over me; was all this going to get worked out within a two month time line, before my international travels?
Getting into the Actual Passport Office:
Step Two: At the Passport Reception Counter = Three Minutes
After three and half hours, my number “D74” was called up. I was led in line and taken down in a group of ten people to the actual passport office.
I showed my D74 butcher counter coupon to the Corps of Commissionaires security guard. By simple virtue of the distribution of numbers, I happened to be the first called up in the ten of us in the group that were lucky enough to enter the actual passport office. It was 12:15 PM by this point in time, and they had less than 4 hours worth of business hours left in the day.
I was told to advance into line one. I called up to Counter #3, where a friendly and relaxed looking agent assembled my application. He did the following things:
- He took scissors to cut off the bottom part of my application that represented the “payment portion” of my passport form
- He verified my photographs had been taken within the last 6 months and removed them from the photo lab envelope
- He printed off a secondary claim ticket
- He told me to take a seat to speak with a “Passport Officer”
I had no idea if this was a routine thing or a bad thing. It was like being sent into secondary screening at the customs and immigration hall. Sometimes it ends well, but sometimes it doesn’t end quickly.
Waiting in the Passport Office:
Step Three: Waiting for Two Hours and Forty Five Minutes
I entered into the holding room which was absolutely stuffed to capacity. I took an uncomfortable and institutional seat.
With clerks telling everyone it would be a four to six hour wait, I had no idea whether this included my early temporary hold room wait time or represented just time within the passport office itself.
I pretty much ran out of things to do while I was waiting in the Passport Office waiting room. There is only so much news you can consume on a smart phone. I even resorted to watching downloaded leftover netflix content.
I chatted with a person who was attempting to get a passport issued. He had mailed his passport application in the month of July 2022. He indicated that it was stuck in Toronto, Ontario and he hadn’t seen it in six months. He was trying to get it transferred to the Surrey office.
Maybe I did do the right thing by coming and applying in person?
I would end up waiting in the Passport Office itself for an additional two hours and forty five minutes.
Speaking with the Passport Officer:
Step Four: Five Minutes
Eventually, my second S091 coupon was called up on the Passport Office Monitors. With materials in hand, I promptly stepped up to the counter.
I indicated to the Passport Officer that I was here for a simplified Renewal. The passport officer was a pleasant older asian lady in her early sixties. She didn’t seem phased by the hundreds of people lining up at her footsteps, and perhaps had gotten used to the sea of impatient faces.
I made the assumption that the Passport Officer verified my identity to that of the photograph, although she didn’t make any obvious moves like holding up the passport document to my face, much like the US Customs and Border Protection or the TSA Officers do whenever I pass through their checkpoints.
The Passport Officer asked me four things:
- She asked me if I wanted regular or expedited processing?
- She asked me if I wanted my passport mailed or held for pick up?
- She placed my passport photographs in a bar coded envelope.
- She asked me if I wanted my current passport returned?
I answered all of these things and presented my credit card for payment. She told me to put it away and that it would get processed by someone else further along in the process. She punched pages 1 – 3 of my existing passport and returned it to me; my treasured collection of international passport stamps collected over nine years intact.
She handed me a green claim slip and told me to come back within five business days.
After a six hour and fifteen minute wait, and exactly eight minutes of interacting with Passport Office staff, I was headed out of the door.
Picking up the Passport
Step Five: Seven Minutes
Five business days later, I returned to the passport office towards the end of the business work day. There was no wait at the temporary storefront upstairs. I received a new coupon number and asked to head immediately down to the passport office about twenty minutes before it closed.
Once inside the passport office, i waited for about seven minutes in line of about ten people. My passport was promptly made available and all appeared to be in order.
The passport was ready as promised, and I walked out the door with my passport in hand.
It seemed bizarre to pick up a passport with an expiration date in 2033 but that’s what a ten year passport comes out at these days.
It was a tremendous relief to actually have this travel document in hand, given all the horror stories occurring about challenges getting this travel document renewed.
My Thoughts on the Passport Office Experience:
On application day, it took six hours and fifteen minutes of queueing. My time interacting with Passport Office staff was exactly eight minutes.
After five business days, on pick up day, I had my passport in hand, picked up without any issue, and was on my way.
In my humble opinion, the main challenge with this process is that each point of contact refers you into a stream that is not capable of delivering the results.
- Passport Office Managers refer you into the “mail in” stream, but the mail in stream seems to have no credibility to deliver on time.
- There are appointments available to be booked, but you can’t actually book any appointments for upwards of sixty days.
- Passport Office Hours do not appear to be aligned with the actual demand, and don’t operate on evenings or weekends.
Despite being in the year 2023, several months after the countries’ borders have re-opened to leisure and business travel, the system still appears to be under heavy strain.
I’m not sure why the simple fixes of extending the hours of operation aren’t being considered. This seems to be a simple method in order to address the back logs.
In Summary: My Experience Renewing a Passport
After deciding to complete a walk in application at my local Canadian Passport Office, it took me six hours and fifteen minutes of waiting in order to apply. My time at the passport counter itself was only five minutes in duration.
It seems incredible to have to wait that long for a system that is clearly under continued strain and pressure, for such a simple travel document. While I can appreciate that the country needs a safe and secure travel document, the system clearly seems under strain. There appear to be easy fixes to the system, such as extending the hours of operation, that don’t appear to be under consideration at the moment. Despite this, I was able to get a passport in about five business days, and applying in person was likely the fastest possible route.
Be prepared for a long wait, if you have to get a passport renewed in your near future.