If you are cruising, or thinking of cruising the Caribbean with minor (under 16) U.S. citizens, be sure to check the expiration dates of their passports and leave plenty of time to navigate the renewal process. As a practicing immigration attorney, I routinely track and monitor expiration dates of clients’ immigration documents. Recently, while cruising geographically halfway down the Caribbean chain, we had the pleasure of navigating passport renewals for our minor crew aboard, Ryan and Ronan.
Unlike U.S. adult citizens , whose passports are valid for 10 years, minor U.S. citizens’ passports are only valid for five years. Since some countries require at least six months remaining validity on a passport to allow entry, this effectively limits the duration of a minor’s passport to 4.5 years. In addition, while U.S. adult citizens have the option to renew their passports by mail, U.S. citizen minors must physically present themselves, their renewal application, and original supporting documents, along with both of their parents, at a US passport agency. Not surprisingly, other than the U.S. territories in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, there are no U.S. passport agencies located in the Caribbean. Logistically, this requires a trip to the United States, or a U.S. territory, either by boat or by plane. These are all factors to consider when planning one’s cruising itinerary.
Standard and Expedited Passport Renewal Procedures (6-8 weeks)
As mentioned above, to renew a U.S. citizen minor’s passport, the passport application (Form DS-11), and original supporting documents, must be submitted in person at a passport agency or authorized passport application acceptance facility. The child and both parents must be present. There is an option to have only one parent appear with the child(ren), so long as that parent has signed and notarized authorized consent from the other parent on Department of State Form DS-3053. This option at least allows for one parent to stay with and attend to the boat.
If you do not happen to be cruising with all of the required original documentation, i.e. birth and marriage certificates, you will need additional time to order them online, by phone, or by fax and have them shipped to you. The processing times and fees to order the original documents vary from state to state and agency. It cost us $10-$30 per document (additional fees to expedite) and took between 2 to 10 weeks for delivery. The time required was variable from agency to agency. As they say in the commercials, “your experience may vary.”
The current standard processing times for a passport renewal is 6-8 weeks. The passport agency personnel takes and holds the minor’s original documents, including their passport, while the application is pending. Original documents, the old/canceled passport, and the newly issued passport are returned upon completion of the application process 6 to 8 weeks after filing. This generally is not a problem for landlubbers, however for minors cruising the Caribbean, no passport means they cannot leave the United States and return to their boat for 6 to 8 weeks! For an additional fee of $60 , you can request “expedited” processing and the passport agency will aim to complete processing in 2-3 weeks, however there are no guarantees. If there are any problems with the application, fees, or supporting documents the process will be delayed. Whichever route you choose, suitable long-term accommodations will be required. For additional information regarding passport renewal procedures for minor U.S. citizens go to the Department of State website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/under-16.html .
If relinquishing your child’s passport and ability to travel for 6-8 weeks while the renewal application is being processed does not sound appealing, there is an alternative “emergency passport application” process. To apply for an emergency passport, all of the above standard processing requirements must be met. In addition, you must be able to document, via confirmed flight itinerary, international travel within two weeks of the date of the scheduled passport appointment at a Regional Passport Agency. Only certain locations will process emergency passport applications. You can locate these locations on the U.S. Department of States website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html. Again, not surprisingly, other than Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, there are no locations located in the Caribbean. The most convenient office location that we found, relative to our boat’s position, was in fact, San Juan, Puerto Rico. We left the boat in St. Martin and flew to Puerto Rico. We scheduled the earliest available appointment at 7:30 am and received the passports that same afternoon!
The passport office in San Juan, Puerto Rico is located directly across the street from Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which is a nice place to stroll while waiting for your application to be processed.
Anticipating it might have taken more than a day to process the renewals, we scheduled to be in Puerto Rico for several days. We made the most of our visit by touring Old San Juan and El Morro Fort.
All of this process may seem intimidating at first. To be fair, we found all of the folks that we interacted with at the various agencies to be both professional and genuinely interested in helping us address our somewhat unusual traveling constraints (at least from the perspective of our landlubber friends). The key to a successful outcome is proper advance planning.