Right now there is passport chaos in British Columbia as residents try to renew their passports or obtain their first Canadian passport. Actually the passport chaos is likely in all parts of Canada, but I’m only familiar with what’s happening in B.C. thanks to news reports and personal experience.

News coverage of passport chaos in British Columbia

With the Canadian and American land borders reopening, and more people travelling by air as Covid-19 fears diminish, there’s a rush to renew passports that expired during the pandemic.

It’s crazy. People are camping out in front of Passport Canada offices and Service Canada offices hoping to get one of a handful of available appointments that day.

Appointments can also be booked online – if you can find one that is. I’m not sure how far in advance passport appointments can be made. Click on any location around Vancouver, and the message is “no available appointments”.

This has led to some entrepreneurs offering to stand in line at a Passport Canada location for $25/hour or even more.

The Canadian goverment claims they hired 600 more passport employees. Yeah, probably 500 in Ontario and the other 100 scattered across the rest of Canada.

Check out these stories:

Passport Bottleneck

Passport System Stretched

BC Woman Flies to Alberta for Passport

Passport Delays

Lineup for Passports

Woman Lines Up for Days

Canadians Camping Out for Passports.

Replacing my passport

In 2017 I purchased a ten year passport.

Unfortunately it was destroyed last December and I had to get another one. Maybe I should have thought about replacing it right away before Covid restrictions began to loosen and more people wanted to travel.

In order to renew a passport in Canada, it has to have expired in the past 15 years. Well, mine hasn’t expired yet, so I had a lot of uncertainty about what I should do.

I finally decided on the passport renewal even though I was doubting myself because I would not have my last issued passport available to turn in. The passport renewal application asked for the passport number, the issue date and the expiration date. Fortunately I had all those details!

If I did not know those details I would have needed to start all over with a new passport application. And the only reason I had this information, was due to applying for a Nexus card that facilitates travel between Canada and America. That office closed down during the pandemic and I still haven’t gone in to get my photo taken for the Nexus card, but I’m glad I applied and logged in to my Homeland Security account to retrieve the information I needed.

But I’m also thinking – what the hell??!! Can’t Passport Canada just pull me up on their computer and see my current passport details.

Passport photos

I’d say the easiest part of the passport process was going to London Drugs for my passport photos.

London Drugs still has their $50 guarantee if the passport photo is rejected.

The price has gone up a bit from the $11.99 I paid in 2017. I think it was $13.99 or maybe $14.99 – I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention.

Seeing as how many people are renewing their passports I had a small wait to get my photo taken. One man ahead of me and two others came in behind me. I still managed to get my passport photo done on my lunch break.

Then I figured it would be easy to go online and book an appointment to turn in my passport application.

Ha ha! Was I ever naive!

Where to turn in my passport application?

How do I actually go about turning in my passport application?

In the past, I’ve gone to the Passport Canada Office in Surrey. I get in line to see the admissions person, and that takes 15 minutes or so. This person double checks I have my application and passport photos, verifies if it’s a new passport or passport renewal, and then gives me a number and I take a seat and wait for that number to be called. The whole process takes an hour or two.

Those were the olden days.

The local news stations are covering the lengthy line ups and delays to get a Canadian passport. A person can also turn in their passport application at a Service Canada location. The difference between Passport Canada office and Service Canada, is that Service Canada assists with other Canadian government inquiries and applications. It takes a little longer to receive a passport if dropping off the application at Service Canada.

The line up at Service Canada in Surrey is often featured on the nightly news. That’s because the line up is around the side of the building and down the block!

I have no travel plans. Other than a desire to have a passport in hand so I can head down to Bellingham, Washington to shop at Trader Joe’s and buy cheaper gas. I’m balking about the passport chaos in British Columbia and possibly standing in line for hours and not getting an appointment.

Book a passport appointment online

Luckily Service Canada has a website where Canadians can book a passport appointment.

Easy peasy. It’s mid-May and I’ve booked a week off work the first week in June. I’ll find an appointment online, book it, and go in.

Ha ha ha! Sounds good in theory!

Reality?

Every single Passport Canada and Service Canada location in the Greater Vancouver Area had no appointments available to book. And I was looking at the website in mid-May. The only city that showed two appointments available on July 20 was in Squamish, about an hour and a half drive, depending on traffic.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, passport applications can be mailed in. Unfortunately the mailed in applications have been piling up in a mail room for months because Passport Canada is short staffed and there are no clerks available to deal with the mail room chaos. This has led to people who mailed in their passport applications in March and April to apply a second time and stand in line.

Do I really want to spend a week in a line up that doesn’t guarantee I’ll get inside the building for an appointment?

I expanded my search to other parts of the province and found several appointments available in Penticton, about a 5 hour drive, but starting from the second week in June, not actually during the week I had on vacation. I checked Kamloops, where I lived when I was younger, and about a three hour drive. Nothing available for a month.

I’m getting a little edgy now and expand my search even further. All the while considering I should just book an appointment and then change my vacation time at work. After all I’ve got nothing planned other than renewing my passport. I can change my dates.

I check Salmon Arm, about an hour’s drive east of Kamloops and there are many appointments during the week I’m on vacation. Yee haw!!! No passport chaos for me!

I quickly snap up an appointment on Tuesday morning, May 31. There were appointments available on Monday, but I decided I’d drive up there on Monday and avoid the weekend traffic.

Salmon Arm is a small town with a population that increases during the summer. Many people have cabins around Shuswap Lake. Houseboat rentals are popular. It’s a great place to enjoy hot summer days, and the town has a lot of restaurants and shopping.

Book a hotel

I’m on vacation anyway, so I might as well enjoy the splurge of a hotel. The usual struggle is finding a dog friendly hotel, and unfortunately hotels that accept dogs usually charge an arm and a leg.

I discovered a likely spot – the Hilltop Inn – with slightly discounted rates for booking a week in advance, which I was closing in on in a couple of days.

The cost was $154 including tax and another $15 for the dog. The only downside was this rate was non-refundable if I had to cancel and I’d be out of pocket $170.

Well what can I say? I needed a passport and wasn’t going to cancel.

Detour

Then I decided to make a round trip of British Columbia’s Okanagan country and spend the next night in Osoyoos. When I was a kid we spent all our summers camping in Osoyoos and I hated it. Every now and then I drive up there to make sure I still hate it.

I checked online for dog-friendly hotels, specifically looking for a hotel where I’d stayed 15 years ago and booked it.

Osoyoos is a border town with Oroville, Washington. It’s located about a 5 or 6 hour drive east of Vancouver. It’s also a summer mecca, with hot desert-like temperatures and a large lake for boating activities.

Osoyoos is a First Nations word that means twin lakes.

The hotel I’d be staying in is located on a split of land that divides the two sections of the lake. It was a little cheaper than the hotel in Salmon Arm, maybe by $10.

Passport chaos in British Columbia

I am on track to avert passport chaos in British Columbia by taking a journey upcountry.

Yay me!

This was the best solution for me. Easier than camping in front of a passport office or standing in a long line up with no guarantee of an appointment.

Why aren’t more people doing this? I can’t possibly be the first person in the Greater Vancouver Area to think this one up?

What about you? Are you in Canada – or America – and in disbelief at the hassles of renewing your passport? What did you do? Camp in front of a Passport Canada or Service Canada location or take a mini vacay to renew?

Stay tuned for a recap of my mini vacation and passport renewal process!

Posted by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs on July 4, 2022.

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