No-Fee Passports

The topic of no-fee passports for US mariners has come up before but I haven’t seen anyone really talk about or describe getting one. My personal passport is coming due for renewal, so I figured I’d look into it more. No-fee passports are done through the Special Issuance Department. Don’t bother asking questions at your local passport office, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll have answers. I called up the Special Issuance Department (202) 485-8200. Don’t bother with the menus if you call, you’ll want extension 0 to talk with a person.

The questions I had are as follows:

  1. Can I have a no-fee passport and a personal passport at the same time (ie, holding two US passports)?

The answer is yes, but there is a caveat, at least for the initial issuance of the no-fee passport, which leads to #2:

  1. I currently hold a personal passport, do I need to submit it with my application for a no-fee passport?

Yes, you do. Which means that you’re without a passport for this application process, which leads to #3:

  1. How do I get both a personal passport and a no-fee passport at the same time if I have to submit my current passport?

You must submit two complete applications at the same time to the special issuance department, one for the no-fee passport, one for the personal passport. The form for both is the renewal form, DS-82. You will need to submit payment for the renewal fees for your personal passport. For the no-fee passport, you will need to also submit a copy of your MMC and a letter on company letterhead stating that you work on US flagged ship and are eligible for a no-fee passport. I’ve also heard that a letter from the vessel’s master with the ship’s stamp is also acceptable, but I have the company letter.

  1. Where do I send my application(s)?

Here’s the address for the Special Issuance Agency. It’s NOT the same as the standard passport renewal/application offices:
U.S. Department of State
Special Issuance Agency (CA/PPT/SIA)
44132 Mercure Cir.
PO Box 1185
Sterling, VA 20166-1185

  1. How long does it take?

Standard time is four to six weeks but you can expedite to two weeks for a fee. I forgot to ask if the fee would need to be paid to expedite both applications or if one expedite fee would suffice. I did not expedite my applications.

  1. Is there a physical difference between the personal passport and the no-fee passport?

The woman was a little vague, but it sounds like they’re the same color, size and shape with different wording.

I forgot to ask about how long the no-fee passport was valid for. Anyhow, I’m just starting the process. If anyone else has first hand experience, please feel free to chime in.

Also note, you can use your personal passport for work and personal travel but you can only use your no-fee passport for work. So why get both when the personal one will do it all? Well, right now I’m about to put a document in the mail that I need in order to go to work. Until I get the new one back I can’t actually go to work without jumping through a bunch of potentially expensive expediting hoops. I’d rather not have to worry about that in the future. I figure I’ve got at least two, probably three more renewals before I’m ready for retirement.

Also, as I type this the Govt is still shutdown, but the passport offices are open.


They are only valid for 5 years. Looked into it but figured the hassle wasn’t worth the $140 or whatever to go the no fee route every 5 years like my MMC. I use mine for personal reasons enough that I didn’t want to be without it for any period of time.

Fair enough, but your reason for not getting one is similar to my reason for getting both. :slightly_smiling_face: I’ll always be able to work as I can work with either. I’ll renew the no-fee one early so that they get offset slightly, I’ll still be able to work when going through the renewal for either one.

So the original post made me look at the State Dept web page. According to the page for no-fee passports, they will only send the completed no-fee passport to the sponsoring agency (i.e., your employer). Is your employer sponsoring your application and are they receiving the passport?

According to the woman I spoke to, both passports will be mailed to my address.

I have the “official” maroon (or is it burgundy?) passport in addition to my personal one. It’s a five year expiration and mine expired. My employer holds it. Whenever we open back up I have to go to the office to renew it. I have never used it. My personal one was good enough for the time or two I needed it recently

Well, the burgundy “Official Passport” means you work for the U.S. government (e.g., MSC) and presumably need that passport in the course of your duties. But isn’t Louis75 is talking about an ordinary no-fee passport (looks identical to a blue tourist passport). According to the State Dept., “No-Fee Regular - Blue no-fee regular passports are issued to, among others, certain categories of employees of the Department of Defense, American National Red Cross, and Peace Corps volunteers assigned overseas.”

Of course they don’t have much information on the Web and there is no mention of merchant mariners. Does a mariner need some proof from his employer about the need?

From the original post in this thread:

Yes, my burgundy passport is for my official travel…even though in six years of being here, I’ve never needed it, and my blue passport worked fine for my side gigs.

I thought he said there was a difference in appearance from the blue personal passport?

The personal passport worked fine for me overseas and thru the Panama Canal zone.

Cat, did you go through NOAA when you got yours? I wonder if that is why yours is a different color. The woman I spoke to said that there were very minor differences in the wording of the passport but that it would be cosmetically the same, but I’m not applying in association with a Gov agency

The different color is because it is an “official passport,” i.e. for government employees travelling on government business. On the next to last page of mine, it is stamped “The bearer is abroad on official assignment for the United States government.” If you are not a government employee, you would not be getting one of those.

So, I mailed my no-fee application packet in on Jan 26th. I just received it today, Feb 15, the issuance date is Feb 7. It’s the same blue book as the regular passport. The only difference I see is on the main page with the picture, under “Endorsements” it says “See Page 27”

Page 27 says:

  • No Fee
  • The bearer is a crew member of an American vessel

I applied for the regular personal passport as well but I have not yet received it. I’m wondering now if the special issuance office forwards the personal passport application to the main passport office after processing the no-fee passport.

And a final update to this thread. I just received my new personal passport in the mail today, along with the voided original passport that I had submitted with my two applications.

So, now I have my no-fee passport that can be used for work travel, along with my personal passport that can be used for work or vacation travel.

I’m still not certain on why there was a delay between the two passports being issued but I’m not too worried about it.

Hey bud, did u send a payment for them to mail your passport back? Coz mine says it’s been completed but I still haven’t got it. Sucks because of covid nobody answers the phone.

There was no payment for the no-fee passport. They shipped it at no cost to me.