Updated: Feb 25
You're a few days from embarking on a great adventure. That European tour that you've been putting off for years, or that African Safari that you've dreamt about since you were a kid. Plans are set, bags are packed, and tickets are ready to go. You open the bottom drawer where you keep all of your important documents, pull out your passport and open it up. That's when it hits you, your passport has been expired for a year!
It happens to the best of us. Whether your passport is expired and in need of renewal, or you realize you need a visa for the country you are planning to visit. In these moments we panic and immediately run to the internet to see what can be done. Frantically typing "FAST PASSPORT RENEWAL" hoping for a miracle. Then that wonderful saving grace pops up as the first result, a service promising quick passport and renewal service in as little as a day.
Many of us would panic and immediately trust this as your only option. But these services are NOT CHEAP and in the vast majority of situations completely unnecessary. If you don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars and can do a minimal amount of extra footwork, then take a look below for reasons not to go with one of these services.
1. The services they offer are already provided directly by the consulate or passport agency.
Many passport and visa services offer things like turning your passport around in as little as one day or getting your visa to *insert country* in as little as 5 business days. In many cases, you can even get your document faster if you were to apply on your own. One website that we visited offers Indian e-visas in either 4 to 5 days or 6 to 7 days. However, the Indian e-visa website offers the same service in 72 hours without a service fee involved. So besides the fact that you are paying someone to essentially navigate a website for you, you are also paying them to sit on your documents until the last minute and take longer than it would if you were to do it yourself. Many consulates even warn against using services that promise expedited processing.
This is a common theme throughout passport and visa companies and there are many more examples of this that you can find around the internet. These companies market their services as if only they can navigate the complex world of travel documents when in reality, the process is usually pretty simple. And to be fair, consulate websites are usually poorly made and can be somewhat frustrating to navigate, but it certainly doesn't take a law degree to be able to understand what to do. Passport and visa companies take advantage of the poor design of government websites and overly complicate them even further to their benefit. Take our advice, give it a try on your own first and you'll be surprised at how easy it really is.
2. The cost is way too high.
The price points of many of the services these companies offer are often completely ridiculous. Various websites are currently offering same-passport renewals that range between $600 and $1500+. This does not even include the government fee of $190. What if you have a family that is traveling with you? Well, be prepared to spend as much on passport renewals as you likely would on the total trip. Meanwhile, if you need a same-day passport renewal, all you really need to do is to show up at your nearest US Passport Agency with your documents ready and proof that your travel is imminent. The cost will just be $190.
3. They may not get the job done.
No matter what route you take, whether using a service or going straight to the government entity that issues the document, there will always be the matter of filling out an application. So if you do go through a service, you will likely be paying them just to deliver documents somewhere for you. You did all the work, they are just delivering the information. Even if these companies offer a document filling service for an extra amount, you will still have to fill out their questionnaire so that they have the information they need to fill in the actual application.
So what then if something goes wrong? Well if the consulate or passport agency rejects your application and requires further information, then they will reach out to the service who will then reach out to you. This is an unnecessary and time-consuming process that can jeopardize your travel plans. If you miss something on your application, or if they mess up your document submission, a situation that could have been fixed immediately could potentially take days to amend.
4. Your documents may not be secure.
If you do ever step into a visa agency, always ask how your information is kept secure. More than likely, there will be some hesitation before they come up with an answer. This is because your documents are likely not stored or discarded properly, leading to the possibility of a huge breach of personal information. Many visa applications require you to submit very personal information depending on the country you're traveling to and your reason for travel. It is not out of the ordinary for countries to ask for bank statements, passport copies, and other identifiable information. You don't want this personal data getting into the wrong hands, and by submitting this information to a 3rd party, you are taking an unnecessary risk.
5. They are becoming obsolete
These days, many countries are offering e-visas, which are easily completed online and emailed to you upon approval. Many visa agencies offer a service to do this for you, but what is the point of filling out a document for them just so they can input that same information on the consulate website? Even better is that many countries that required visas in the past, such as Brazil, no longer require visas at all (This is referencing US passport holders, make sure to always check visa requirements for your own country). The bottom line is, the revenue options for these companies are quickly disappearing and the only way they can continue is to either raise their prices or trick you into thinking the application process for visas and passports is harder than it really is.
With all this said, there are reasons to use a passport or visa service. Maybe you don't live near a passport agency or consulate. Or maybe you are a business traveler with not a lot of time to spare to do this on your own. These reasons and more are legitimate excuses to use a service. But, before you do, do yourself a favor and take just a small amount of time to do some research., because chances are you will be happy you did!