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:
- 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:
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.