I got my first-ever passport in August 2002, while preparing for my first-ever foreign mission trip, to Nicaragua in January 2003. Passports are good for 10 years, and mine expired last August. Fortunately, you don’t have to renew right away; as long as your passport is less than five years out of date, you can use the renewal-by-mail form. If it’s more than five years out of date, you have to apply in person and use the same form as new passport applicants, which requires a $25 payment to the local office that accepts your application over and above the $110 passport fee.
Now that I’m planning a mission trip to Sierra Leone in November, I had to bite the bullet and renew. A couple of mission trip contributions made directly to me (instead of to LEAMIS, which is where people would normally contribute) paid for the $110 renewal fee plus the cost of new passport photos.
The application, along with my old passport, is now in the hands of the State Department, and it may be weeks before I get my new passport. They also return the old passport, with a hole punched through it to indicate that it’s no longer valid. That’s a good thing, because the visa stamps in the booklet are like little reminders of all your previous trips. It’s also great for showing off when you make mission trip presentations.
As I said, my old passport was from 2002. I’ve been reading up on the new passport design introduced in 2007, about the same time they started implanting RFID chips with your passport number and information into the passports. The new design was, I discover, almost universally reviled:
Marketplace: ‘I don’t want an ugly American passport’
CBS News: ‘An embarrassingly patriotic passport’
New York Times: ‘Stars and Stripes, wrapped in the same old blue’
Here’s a quote from the NY Times story:
“It is like being given a coloring book that your brother already colored in,” said Michael Bierut, of the design firm Pentagram in New York City.
The complaints seem to be that the passport design is too garish and/or busy, and that it’s a little over-the-top in patriotic imagery. After all, say the critics, its primary function is to be shown to immigration officials from other countries, who are likely to be less-than-impressed by the Preamble to the Constitution, quotes from U.S. presidents, or imagery of bison on the Great Plains.
What little I’ve seen of the new design online doesn’t bother me that much. I do sort of understand some of the complaints – when you travel internationally, you’re proud of and grateful for your home country, but you try to avoid being the Ugly American who tries to shove the red, white and blue down everyone else’s throats. But I think immigration officials are probably too busy to take in, much less be offended by, the graphic design of any country’s passport. Their impressions of foreign countries are probably much more influenced by the behavior of frazzled and irritable travelers as they go through line.
The old passport book had the blank pages divided into quarters. I used to be a little annoyed that Kenya’s visa stamp was large enough to fill a whole page, which I considered wasteful and arrogant. My old passport wasn’t quite full, but it was getting there – and having the State Department add extra passport pages, which used to be free, now costs $82. $82! For blank pages! You can, if you think you’re going to be traveling heavily, order a fatter passport in the first place, and that is actually free.
Sorry, I was starting to ramble. At some point between my first three Kenya trips and my last two Kenya trips, the full-page rubber stamp was replaced by a full-page label, which features images of the “big five” – the five animals that give you bragging rights in terms of a safari. (I have seen all of the big five, but not all on the same trip.) The Kenyan visa label is not unlike the new U.S. passport – a celebration of the country’s heritage. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I still don’t think they should be taking up a whole page, but I have to admit the new label is more of a conversation piece.
Another thing that took up space in my old passport has now been eliminated. For a while, U.S. immigration was stamping your passport when you returned to the country. I don’t think they did so on my last couple of trips, and I’m not sure why they ever did. I’m not sure exactly what that stamp was supposed to document which isn’t already documented elsewhere.
Anyway, the new passport pages are not specifically divided into quarters, because of the artistic background imagery. I can understand the people who find the new imagery a bit over-the-top, but I don’t think I agree with them, at least not from the photos I’ve seen online.
Ask me again when I get my new passport.