Passport fees going up in the United States

The State Department has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register announcing their intentions to change the rates charged for a number of consular services that they render around the world.  Among these services are the issuance of passports and visas for travelers.  Unsurprisingly, these fees are being increased to “ensure that fees for consular services reflect costs to the United States of providing the services.”

The Department conducted a study of their operational costs for a two year period, August 2007 through June 2009 and have concluded that they are not appropriately recovering the costs for performing these activities through the fees they are charging to the public. The issuance of passports, visas and other consular services is based on the following principle:

[E]ach recipient should pay a reasonable user charge for government services, resources, or goods from which he or she derives a special benefit, at an amount sufficient for the U.S. Government to recover the full costs to it of providing the service, resource, or good

For the most part the fee changes are trivial.  The cost for a new or renewed Passport Book is increasing by $35 to $110.  That is a 46% increase and the new number breaks a somewhat mythical $100 barrier, but the total dollar amount difference is still tolerable in most regards.  Of this increase, $20 is attributed to the increased costs of producing the passport books with increased biometric capabilities.  These are the RFID chip passports that the US Government has been issuing for about four years now.  They are the same passport books that have been the subject of controversy for at least two years.  Passport books that are being sold to the Department of State at a huge markup from the actual production costs – a full 100% – and now the State Department has decided to finally account for that largesse.  By passing the costs on to the consumer.

Similarly the costs for issuance of Passport Cards are increasing, but not nearly as significantly nor in a manner that actually covers the production costs.  Based on the reasoning that, “the card is intended to be a substantially less expensive document than the passport book, for the convenience of citizens who live close to land borders and cross back and forth frequently,” the Passport Card fee is increasing to only $30, well below the cost of about $77.  It is worth noting that the cost-basis for Card and the Book are calculated to be different numbers even though both documents are issued based on the same credentials.  Gotta love government math.

I’ve previously documented some of the adventures I’ve gone through trying to get extra visa pages in my passport and at least I could take solace in the fact that I was only out time to make that happen.  That will change in a big way as part of the proposed changes.  Having additional pages inserted into passports apparently doesn’t happen particularly frequently.  The expectation is that there will be only 218,000 requests for this service in Fiscal Year 2010 compared to 11.9MM passport books and 1.56MM passport cards issued.  Apparently this rarity contributes to the costs of performing the actions.  The new fee for this service will ring in at $82 per instance.

[T]he cost of the pages themselves, of having the pages placed in the book in a secure manner by trained personnel, and of completing the required security checks results in a cost to the U.S. Government of $82.48 based on a projected FY10 workload of 218,000. Therefore, the Department will charge $82 for this service.

I can’t figure out which bit actually costs so much.  The pages shouldn’t be too expensive as they don’t have the RFID chip that makes the book cost so much.  And the “security checks” shouldn’t be much more than swiping the passport like at immigration to make sure that it is still valid and hasn’t been reported lost or something similar.  Yet the cost is increasing dramatically.  Not good at all.

The most significant dollar amount change for any service is that for the renunciation of citizenship.  This process used to be fee-free for folks seeing citizenship elsewhere.  It will now ring in at $450.  Yikes!

Like many other things the government does these days the fee increases are repeatedly labeled as based on increased costs to comply with “security” changes instituted by Congress.  There are “increased costs related to new passport agencies serving border communities,” “costs of increased border security,” and “costs of the enhanced security screening requirements associated with fingerprint collection.” Even worse, is this claim with respect to the increased costs for Passport Book issuance:

[T]his fee incorporates the costs of meeting the increased demand for passports as a result of actions taken to comply with section 7209(b) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Public Law 108-458 (reproduced at 8 U.S.C. 1185 note).

In other words, the government is requiring all citizens to use passports for travel because of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) rules.  And those rules mean that more folks will need passports. Yet the cost to produce the passports isn’t going down as the volume increases.  In fact, the per unit processing cost somehow managed to increase.  That seems quite backwards from the way things work in the rest of the world.

The worst part of all these fees is that encouraging global travel amongst its citizens is a good thing for the country.  Insularity and ignorance of global cultures are bad things for any society.  And now the US Government has decided – again – to make it even harder for folks to overcome those limits.  Bummer.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I have always held the belief that passports and related services should be “free” (paid for by our copious taxes). Putting financial barriers in the way of prospective travelers is neither fair nor good for Americans’ “education”. People should be encouraged to see other cultures in their “native habitat”, not convinced to “experience” them in Epcot Center by nickel- and dimining prospective travelers.

  2. Hey it could be worse. $110 for a 10 year passport which you are allowed to add pages is still pretty good.

    Ours are only valid for 5 years, cost considerably more and have no way to add pages.

    As for Government economics, you are forgetting the First Law – if demand is still increasing then it isn’t high enough taxed yet.

  3. I know, it used to be that you could request a passport with additional pages when you renewed. But now with the new “chip” passports it is no longer an option. Sucks for those of us who run out of pages passport after passport. Besides the fact that I am always having to carry two passports because I have unexpired visas in the expired passport. Love the 10 yr visas but they do have some minor setbacks such as having to carry the old passport. Oh well, I’ll travel until I die, then I’ll keep traveling but leave the ol’ bod behind!

  4. I couldn’t agree more, Oliver. Travel is the ultimate education tool.

    It could be worse, I agree, but jacking the rates up this much is still annoying. And the fact that citizens no longer have a choice in needing the passport to travel, even mostly locally, puts the government in the position of being a wonderful monopoly.

    New passports can still be requested with the extra pages in the USA but there’s no guarantee that it will actually happen. I’ll hope for the best in 5 years when I go to renew. In the meantime I figure I’m still up for at least one extra set of pages, and the $82 hit that goes with it.

  5. “[E]ach recipient should pay a reasonable user charge for government services, resources, or goods from which he or she derives a special benefit, at an amount sufficient for the U.S. Government to recover the full costs to it of providing the service, resource, or good”

    Funny, I thought that’s what this was for:

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