Do I need a passport?

Do I need a passport?

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If you don’t fly, work at a nuclear power plant or need access to secure federal facilities, you don’t need identification that complies with the federal Real ID Act.  But if you plan on flying — domestic or international — in the latter part of 2020, you should probably think about getting a passport. 

At least that’s what Transportation Security Administration and Oregon’s Department of Transportation advise travelers to do ahead of what is expected to be a wave of Oregon drivers lining up to get new identification when it becomes available next July.

While some passport offices are equipped to handle a higher volume of applications, such as those within the Portland area, others are bracing for growing pains in expectation of more Oregonians seeking to acquire their passport. 

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said he’s not overly worried about an influx of passport seekers in his district because the office already saw a huge throng of Marion County residents seeking passports after the 2016 election who were worried about their ability to visit family members in Central and South America. Nearly all of the staff members in Burgess’ office are trained to process passport applications. 

“After Trump was inaugurated, a lot of families were worrying how they would stay together and get across the border if they were U.S. citizens,” Burgess said. “Our passport business more than quadrupled.” 

Burgess believes his office will be ready, but he warns Marion County residents not to wait. If they plan to fly in October of next year, you really should submit your application around June 2020. “Think about it this way: a passport makes a great graduation gift,” Burgess said. 

Outside of county offices, some cities have their own passport services within city hall. Lake Oswego, for example, has staff trained to accept and passport applications. The city even offers photo services for a small fee. 

One tip offered by Lake Oswego Administrative Support Assistant Chloe Busch: U.S. passport cards ($65 with fees), which offer entry into Mexico and Canada, comply with Real ID standards and are less expensive than a standard U.S. passport book ($145 with fees). 

Busch said that during the past few weeks nearly everyone she has helped has said they were doing so to comply with Real ID standards, instead of waiting in line at the DMV next summer. She’s pitched those looking to fly domestically on purchasing the passport card to save a few bucks, especially if they’re purchasing for a family.

“This may sound stupid, but make sure you read all the instructions,” Busch said. “A lot of people kind of skim over it, so just to make the process as smooth as possible, read all of the information on instructions so you don’t have to come back several times.”

At larger agencies like Multnomah County’s Division of Assessment, Recording and Taxation, customer service agents are also confident they’ll be able to keep up with increased demand due to the high volume of passport applications they already handle. Supervisor Brian Smith said that his office handles around 15,000 applicants per year, sometimes as many as 130 people per day during the summer.

“Right now, it's too early to tell if we are seeing an influx of residents coming in to get passports ahead of next year's change,” Smith said. “We're closely tracking the numbers over the next couple of months, so we can anticipate and respond to any increase in applications and, hopefully, not have an increase in wait times.”

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