“Empty” Passport Page Is Not Sufficient

 In Asia, China, New York, North America, USA

Ever show up at a consulate office to get your visa and be told that you do not have enough pages in your passport to obtain a visa? No? Well, let us tell you how to ensure you never go through what we did.

Although this happened to us a couple of years ago, we have since s manyeen others go through the same misery. Hence, we thought it would be best to share our experience and tips!

We went to the Chinese consulate office in New York City to submit our visa applications. This was our third time getting a Chinese visa, so we wee pretty familiar with the required documentations and visa process. Unfortunately, what we were not aware of had nothing to do with the Chinese visa application itself.

Three years prior to this incident, we renewed our passports, but we had pretty much run out of space (1.5 empty pages remained). Due to constant International travels leading up to this incident, we did not have time to get our passporst renewed (adding pages to passport feature had ended in December 31, 2015). The expedited process takes approximately 3 weeks and we hadn’t been in the states long enough to get that done. So, we took our chances and assumed that the 1.5 empty pages (although not ideal) would be sufficient for this trip. The plan was to renew the passports upon returning from China.

WRONG.

Turns out, those last two pages on your passport are OK for getting stamps but NOT OK for obtaining visas. Why? Because it does not say “visas” on top of the page. That’s right.

Did you notice?

Did you know?

Sigh.

We did not.

Devastated, we left the office pretty stressed out. We were running out of time and realistically did not have enough time to renew the passport and get the visas obtained unless everything was expedited immediately.

We called the U.S. passport agency right away and used the automated system to make the earliest in-person appointment available in New York City, 10 calendar days prior to our trip. We then called back and spoke to a representative, unfortunately, the rep was anything but helpful. He was cold, abrupt and basically told us that he would not move our appointments up because apparently 10 days between the in-person interview with the U.S. passport agency and the departure date was sufficient time to renew the passports and obtain a Chinese visa.

Uhh, yes, technically it is just enough time, but in those ten days we had weekends, a holiday and our sanity to account for. Not that he could be bothered by any of it. The only information he was able to provide was the cost of renewal including the expedited service, $170 per passport including the expedited fee of $60 (information readily available on the Department of State website).

Note: In order to quality for in-person appointment, the agency requires proof of International travel within 2 weeks or proof that a visa needs to be obtained within 4 weeks.

Hanging up from the very dissatisfied phone call, we tried the Philadelphia office for an earlier appointment. Lucky for us, they had an availability four full days earlier, which at that point was a huge blessing. We were nervous about whether or not we would receive same-day service, (website states the turnaround can take up to 8 business days).

Once at the Philadelphia office, we are happy to report, it was all smooth sailing. We submitted the applications in person, at the designated appointment time and was told to return back later the same day for payment and pick up. We did just that, and voila! A shinny, brand new passport with 52 crisp pages awaiting travel adventures (along with the old passports with holes punched in them) were handed to us by the nicest representative. It cost us a lot of time and money, but it was absolutely worth it (given the circumstances). We headed back to NYC the very next day to get our Chinese visa (incidentally, 3rd time must be the charm because we were finally granted a 10-year visa!)

Lesson learned people. If you travel a lot or haven’t touched your passport in some time, take a look and make sure you have enough empty “Visas” pages so you don’t have to go through what we did. At the time of our renewal process, a  if you are up for renewal, remember to get the 52 page (non standard) book because for the same price, why not?

Hope our incident has helped you avoid a similar mistake.

As always, Happy and Safe Travels!

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