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Last-Minute Passports and Visas

New government rules mean more travelers will need passports, and you’ve probably seen horror stories about long delays in processing applications. Moreover, even if you have a valid passport, you might need a visa. You’ve probably also been hearing about great last-minute cruise and airfare deals. One reader in that quandary asks:

“How do I get visas and plane fares at the last minute to take advantage of last-minute cruise bargains?”

We cover the last-minute airfare part of that question every day through our homepage, so I won’t go into it any further. As to the visa part of the question, the short answer is that a handful of outfits process last-minute passport and visa applications within a few days— for a fee, of course.


Typically, passport/visa services are either located in Washington or have representatives there, so their employees “walk” the applications through the appropriate U.S. government offices and foreign embassies/consulates. As far as I can tell, most of them have some sort of insider deal with those offices/embassies/consulates to expedite applications ahead of the ordinary travelers in line.

Typical fees from one of the biggest outfits, for all U.S. passport functions, including initial application, renewal, replacement, or adding visa pages, run like this:

  • Emergency 2- to 3-day service (with two-way express delivery): $199
  • Urgent 4- to 5-day: $159
  • Express 6- to 7-day: $99
  • Standard 8- to 13-day: $59

These fees, of course, are in addition to U.S. government fees.


Americans traveling to most popular tourist countries do not need visas, unless they plan to stay for a long time or actually work in the country. Among those that do require visas are Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Jordan, and Russia. Some that require visas allow you to arrange them when you arrive at the first international airport gateway, but others require that they be issued in advance. The State Department’s “Country Specific Information” pages post entry/exit requirements—as well as lots of other useful information—for just about every country in the world.

Whether or not you need a visa, many countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your visit. And a few require one or two empty visa pages in your passport. If your passport doesn’t meet these criteria, you’ll need a renewal.

Getting visas through a visa service—for the countries where you need them—is similar to the process for getting a passport. In most cases, you must first download one or more forms to complete, and then forward them to the visa service (by express delivery) along with separate money order fees for each visa plus fees for the visa service. In most cases, you also need additional “passport” photos. National visa fees vary depending on length of stay or purpose of travel. The visa services charge around $100 for departures within two weeks or $60 for departures more than two weeks in advance. You can apply for multiple visas—as well as passport service—in the same transaction and shipment.

Contact a Passport/Visa Service

Here is a list of some of the many passport/visa services that you can contact online:

You may want to do a bit of comparison-shopping to find the best deal for your situation. As usual, listing does not imply endorsement.

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