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What you need to know about getting a passport for your kids in Vancouver right now

Travelling this summer and need to get or renew your child's passport? It's taking an unprecedented amount of time.
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As travel resumes following the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, families are finding it hard to get new or renewed passports from Service Canada for their kids.

When I popped two passport applications in the mail on February 14, 2022, one for each of my daughters whose passports had expired during the two-year travel lull, I thought I had allowed for ample processing time.

My oldest daughter was set to travel in April - two months later - and the website had noted to allow for 10 processing days (plus mailing time). As her travel date approached, I became nervous and called Passport Canada for an estimated arrival date. After waiting on hold for nearly two hours, I spoke to a representative who told me the application was received, everything looked to be in order, and the passport should arrive soon.

A week before her departure date, and still no passport in the mail, I called again. After another two-hour wait, I spoke to a representative who confirmed that all the necessary documents had been received. They suggested that I expedite the application and pay an additional fee to ship it to Vancouver for urgent processing. I paid the $50 fee and was told that someone from the Vancouver office would call me when the passport was ready for pickup.

Two days before my daughter was set to fly, I still hadn’t received a call. I phoned again and was told that everything had been received and someone from the Vancouver office would call as soon as it was ready to be picked up. Nervous, I went to the office that afternoon and waited in the passport pickup line. When I reached the front desk, I was again told that the passport wasn’t ready and I’d have to just wait for the call.

The following day–the last business day before my daughter’s departure, and two hours before the passport office was set to close, I received a call. The representative informed me that the passport photos had not been signed, and told me I’d have to get new photos taken, have the guarantor sign the back, and bring them in within the next hour or the passport could not be processed.

After a lot of rushing around (and a bit of luck), I had the signed photos back just in time. And after another worrisome wait, my name was called and I received the passport–10 minutes before the office closed its doors. My other daughter’s passport has yet to arrive.

I definitely should have been more thorough before mailing in the applications, but I was frustrated that it took three phone calls and two months for them to catch my misstep. I was also frustrated that I had to pay an extra fee to rush the application when I had submitted the documents well in advance.

But the reality is Service Canada has never seen volume like this. In fact, they have processed nearly 40 times the number of applications as at this time last year. From April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, 363,000 passports were issued, and this year, between April 1, and 2021-March 31, 2022, 1,273,000 were issued. This unprecedented surge combined with staff shortages (half of the Vancouver office was out due to a COVID-19 outbreak when I was there), makes for
challenging times.

But travel is on the rise as restrictions ease, and people will continue to renew their passports, so how can you get your child’s passport before you have to cancel your trip? Here are some tips that should help make the process a little easier.

Mail it in

If you’re travelling this summer, your best bet seems to be to mail in your application. Processing times are averaging 26 days (although things are constantly changing as the requests for renewals continue to surge). Plan to follow up to make sure things are moving along, and be prepared to expedite your application if you haven’t received the passport closer to your travel date.

You can try to book an appointment at a Service Canada Centre, but at the time of publication, there were no appointments available within a 150km radius of Vancouver. For urgent, last-minute service, showing up in person seems to be your only option–just be sure to visit a specialized passport site as not all sites have printing and processing capabilities. You’ll need to provide proof of travel, pay an additional fee, and be prepared to wait.

Don’t forge it

If you’ve missed a signature on your child’s passport application (as I had), do not give in to the temptation to forge it. Recognition software will catch it, and forging a signature on a government document is an indictable offence that could result in imprisonment. While I was waiting for my child’s passport, another parent attempted to forge her husband’s signature on her child’s application, and let’s just say her trip did not happen as a result.

Leave your child at home

Your child does not have to be present to apply for their passport or to pick it up once it’s ready. With long wait times and increased crowds, it’s best to leave the little ones at home if you can.

Be persistent

If at first you don’t succeed, call, call again. It may take a few attempts to get added to the hold queue, but don’t give up. With only one phone number and more than 200,000 calls per day, you’re likely to get disconnected or receive a message saying the queue has closed. Just keep calling back and eventually you should get through.

Be patient

While I waited for my daughter’s passport to be processed, I watched as countless moms offered sob stories about forgetting to renew their child’s passport due to COVID-19, and families fraught with the thought of cancelled trips. It’s frustrating but most people have the same story. The staff are stressed and working short-handed, appreciate that they’re doing their best and dealing with a lot as they try to get it all done.