This is a USA Today article published on May 14, 2013 that we thought you may find interesting...
Paul Schaus may have plenty of tasks to take care of before an overseas business trip, but renewing his passport isn't one of them. He pays a fee and lets an agency do all the work.
"It is a godsend," says Schaus, who lives in Phoenix and owns a bank consulting firm. "I have traveled to dozens of countries and have used a third-party service every time.''
Renewing a passport or getting a visa to visit a foreign country means paperwork, and often long lines and weeks of waiting by the mailbox.
PASSPORT 101: How to apply, renew or replace
But travelers have an option if they're willing to pay: Passport and visa services will make sure your paperwork is filled out correctly, submit it to the proper authorities and get your documents back to you, perhaps as soon as 24 hours later.
Is paying sometimes several hundred dollars worth it? George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com says the services can be a big help, especially if a would-be traveler doesn't have time to spare.
"It basically comes down to what you think your time is worth," Hobica says. "Standing in line at visa offices or passport offices can suck up hours. ... For many people, it's just not worth taking a day or half day off from work."
These businesses must register with U.S. State Department passport agencies in order to drop off applications and pick up the passports when they're ready, says Peter Velasco, a State Department spokesman.
"The Department of State does not endorse any courier services, and we encourage customers to conduct their own research before hiring a private expediting company," he says.
The State Department has 26 passport agencies across the U.S. that can help travelers who need documents immediately, and they have to pay an extra $60 fee for expedited service.
But some travelers say they prefer to work with a service, particularly when they have to get overseas for a business meeting or family emergency in just a few days.
"It's practically impossible to pull this off if they go through conventional means," says Ted Ziafathy, whose Atlas Legal and Immigration Services in Glendale, Calif., helps travelers get passports and visas in a hurry.
If a traveler finds out today for instance that they need to head to China tomorrow, Ziafathy's service can secure the necessary visa for a fee of $364.90. "The person will be able to travel on the red-eye tomorrow night," he said.
QUICK AND EASY
Tim Riemenschneider didn't need to get to China a day or so later, but a service still helped him get the required paperwork for his visit faster than he could have secured it himself.
"I needed to have additional pages added to my passport, and at the same time process my visa for China," says Riemenschneider, who lives in New Richmond, Wis., and is director of international sales for a consumer packaged goods company. "By working through the firm I used, I was able to accomplish both tasks, in less than one-and-a-half weeks."
Still, he says, it might make more sense for some travelers to handle their applications on their own. "If one has no time constraints," he says, "then perhaps it would be more difficult to justify paying for such a service."
Pauline Weaver, an attorney who lives in Fremont, Calif., agrees.
"I find many of them too expensive," Weaver says. "I live in an area where there are a number of consulates, so I can do this myself. If I lived in a more rural area, I might find this service useful."
Other corporate trekkers say such services can be invaluable.
Karen Carpenter, a health care executive who lives in Pilot Mountain, N.C., once had to travel to the United Kingdom within a week for a project. "As my passport had recently expired and I had yet to renew, I utilized a service that allowed me to renew my passport within three days," she says. It was "a little pricey but to me it was well worth the extra cost."
They're particularly helpful in navigating the ins and outs of securing a visa, necessary to enter many foreign countries, but which can be a confusing process with fees and requirements varying depending on where you're going and even the reason for the trip.
"In my opinion such professional services are fundamental for a business traveler," says Fernando Mariano, an advertising executive who lives in Orlando. "It saves a lot of time. The use of such services (does) not just expedite the process but frequently, depending on particular requirements of certain countries such as China, Vietnam, they will provide precious information that will avoid" a visa delay or denial.
VISAS ARE COMPLICATED
Rick Gotwalt renews his passport on his own, but uses professionals to help him secure visas.
"Trying to navigate the consulates to get a visa gets very complicated for countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia," says Gotwalt, who works for a bakery equipment company based in Christmas, Fla. "I find that the visa service can do a better and faster job then I can."
Paul Bosakowski, a project management consultant who lives in Chicago but often works abroad, also likes the help of a passport and visa service to get the travel documents that he needs.
"Even though there are a lot of consulates here ... I use an agency whenever I can," he says. "Visas, in my experience, have so many variables that it is ... prudent to use a passport service because they stay current with the latest visa requirements."
Yes, the service will cost you. But Scott Givens, president of FiveCurrents, an international firm that produces large creative productions, says the fees are well worth the savings in hassle and staff time.
"We find the handling fees to be just part of doing business," he says.
References: 5.14.13, USA Today, Charisse Jones , Is it worth it to pay extra for passport, visa services?