Navigating passport process

Huntingdon County Prothonotary Kay Coons prepares a passport application for processing at her office. The prothonotary’s office and the Huntingdon County Post Office are both locations where residents can apply to receive a passport.

The number of United States passports issued has increased exponentially over the past two decades, with over 21 million obtained last year — more than three times the 6.3 million issued in 1997.

As an increasing number of citizens look to travel abroad for work or leisure, many first-time passport applicants find that the process requires a great deal of attention to detail.

Locally, passport applications can be processed at the Huntingdon post office and the Huntingdon County Prothonotary’s Office.

“We check out the applications to make sure everything is filled out properly,” said county prothonotary Kay Coons.

Tad Kelley, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, said passport services are available by appointment.

“Some of our offices offer walk-in services, but most of them are by appointment only,” Kelley said. “We have 92 passport offices in the Western Pennsylvania District. Huntingdon post office receives requests by appointment on the web-based scheduler. Juniata College does not process passports.”

To schedule an appointment at the post office, customers must visit www.usps.com and find the passport link in center of webpage. They then should click on “International,” then “Passports,” and finally, “Find a Post Office.”

“Customers may pick the office they would like to go to, as well as a time that is available, providing the office is one with passport services,” he said. “Photos can be selected as well to have taken.”

To apply for a passport, a Form DS-11 (available at the post office and the prothonotary’s office), proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a birth or naturalization certificate), a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license or military ID), color passport photo and fee payment (check or money order) is required.

“We do not take pictures here, but we do refer them to Walmart or Rite Aid,” Coons said. “Sometimes, we do have an issue with the photos and have to send people back to have them re-taken.”

Birth certificates which fulfill the requirements set forth by the state department have also become something of a hurdle for passport applicants.

“Birth certificates now have to have the parents’ names on them. A lot of people don’t have that,” said Coons. “They come in to get their passport only to be told they have to get a new birth certificate with their parents’ names on it. It hasn’t been too many years since they changed that requirement. Now, newer birth certificates do have the parents’ names on them.”

Preparation is key to navigating the process smoothly.

“Probably one of the most common mistakes is not coming prepared with all of your documents, which means an appointment may have to be rescheduled,” Kelley said.

At the prothonotary’s office, staff members will review the photographs and the assembled documents prior to processing the application.

“We basically serve as an agent for the passport services,” she said.

When questions arise, Coons added that she and her staff will do her best to help applicants.

“It depends what the questions are, but if we don’t know the answer, we’ll call the passport agency in Philadelphia to get answers,” she said.

April can be reached at afeagley@huntingdondailynews.com.

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