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SAN DIEGO: Get your passports here

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All images by Greg Gross and property of I’m Black and I Travel unless otherwise indicated.

The opening of a State Department passport office is one more sign that the city is emerging from the shadow of Los Angeles.

As a travel blogger bent on getting more black Americans to travel internationally, my focus is global. Every so often, though, one has to stop and check out what’s going on at home.

When it comes to international travel, San Diego has always played sidekick to Los Angeles.

If you wanted to fly non-stop anywhere other than Mexico or maybe Canada, you had to make your way north to LAX. If you wanted to take a cruise to Mexico, you had to board in Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor.

And if you needed a passport, LA again.

Things are changing, though. It started back in the early 1990s as San Diego raised its cruise profile to become both a destination and a port of embarkation.

It gathered pace when British Airways returned last year to Lindbergh Field (SAN) with non-stop flights to London Heathrow (LHR), and really accelerated when Japan Air Lines announced its new non-stop route from San Diego to Tokyo.

San Diego now has its own non-stop air links to both Europe and Asia. That’s big. Very big.

Somewhat overshadowed by all these all these high-profile developments was one with perhaps a lot less glitter, but no less important.

Next month, the San Diego Passport Agency, an office of the U.S. State Department, will mark its first anniversary in the city.

Located in the Columbia Center tower at 401 West A Street (the end of A Street closest to the old Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego), the agency issues both the full blue passport book and the newer passport cards.

Rick Saltzman, director of the San Diego agency, was kind enough to give me a tour around his still-new domain last weekend as part of national Passport Day.

“It used to be that everything had to go to Los Angeles,” Saltzman said. “We’re trying to educate people that they don’t have to do that anymore.”

Coincidentally, it was the one day of the year when the agency opens on a Saturday and accepts walk-in passport applicants without an appointment. By lunchtime, they’d already seen about 500 people, with plenty more sitting in a packed upstairs waiting room and a long line downstairs in the lobby.

These folks also can expedite a passport for you.

In the old days, you had to express mail your documents to some private expediter on the other side of the country. Now, for an extra fee of $60, you can get your expedited passport right here in San Diego.

“It’s a service for people who need a passport that’s good for at least six months and theirs only has three months left, people who don’t look for their passport until the week before their trip and can’t find it,” Saltzman told me.

There are 28 such passport agencies around the United States, most of them in cities on or near one of our two land borders.

According to Saltzman, all this is an outgrowth of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires US and Canadian travelers to present a passport or other trusted form of identification when entering this country.

“That was a real sea change for us,” he said.

Saltzman also said that the travel.state.gov Web site also has lots of information for travelers, even a pilot program that will allow you to apply online for a passport card.

He had one other little tip: Look for non-State Department offices that accept walk-in passport applications. In San Diego, that would include the County Administration Building, the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla — and possibly your neighborhood post office.

All in all, the feds have taken much of the hassle out of getting a passport for travelers in the San Diego area. It’s another step toward transforming San Diego into a true international travel hub.

And yes, that’s a good thing.

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San Diego Passport Agency
Columbia Center
401 West A Street, 10th floor
San Diego, CA

HOURS: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Frday
9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Thursday
CLOSED WEEKENDS

APPOINTMENTS REQUIRED
To make appointments, call 877 487-2778 (automated)

FEES
Passport, first-time: $135 adults, $105 children (under 16)
Passport, renewal: $110 adults

Passport card, first-time: $55 adults, $40 children
Passport card, renewal: $30 adults

FORMS
Form DS-11 is for those applying for a passport or passport card for the first time.
Form DS-82 is for those who want to renew your passport or passport card.

You’ll also need two passport photos, which you can have taken at a drug store, private mail store or other commercial shop for a price. If you apply at your local post office, they may do it at no charge.

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