I recently needed to renew my adult Canadian passport, and I underwent a bit of a different process than usual due to the current COVID-19 situation and the fact that Service Canada offices with passport services are all showing as “closed until further notice”.
I thought I’d share the experience here for anyone who’s in a similar position at the moment and might require passport services in the near future.
Why Did I Need to Renew My Passport?
Simply put, I had applied for a 10-year Canadian passport back in 2016, with no idea that I’d be travelling as much as I do today.
By late 2019, I had used up all but two of the empty passport pages, and on my most recent trip to Dubai in November 2020, the last remaining empty page finally succumbed to a passport stamp.
(It was at the hands of a US border control officer, no less. I recall from the pre-pandemic days that I was no longer getting these US “B2 visa” stamps after I had gotten my NEXUS card, but I suppose these days they’re back to stamping Canadian NEXUS holders’ passports too, with the stricter border controls in place.)
On its own, my existing passport being full wasn’t too much of an issue, since I can just ask immigration officers to squeeze their stamps into the ever-thinning margins.
However, as I mentioned previously, I’m looking to secure a new China visa for a trip back home, for which I needed an empty passport page. Frustratingly, unlike many other countries, Canada doesn’t allow you to add blank pages to an existing passport book, and so a renewal was the only way forward.
Canadian Passport Services During COVID-19
As a result of the pandemic, Service Canada has reduced their passport services for the protection of applicants and staff alike. Service Canada is segmenting (or in their words, “triaging”) requests for passport services based on how urgently the services are needed.
This page on the Government of Canada website provides an easy guide to how to get your passport needs handled.
Individuals who require passport services within the next two business days are invited to call Service Canada directly to schedule an appointment. You’ll need to present proof of your urgent needs, such as a travel itinerary or a formal written statement.
If you require passport services “immediately” but not urgently (defined as within two to 59 business days), you’ll be invited to request a callback from Service Canada. Again, you’re reminded that you’ll need to present proof of need or upcoming travel.
Meanwhile, if you don’t require passport services immediately (for example, your current passport is nearing expiry and you’d like to get it renewed, but you don’t have travel plans within the upcoming two months), then you’ll be invited to submit your application by mail.
In my case, I needed to renew my passport within 59 business days for upcoming travel, and so I put in a request for a callback from Service Canada.
My Experience Renewing My Passport
I received a callback from Service Canada the next business day. The call shows up as “No Caller ID”, and it’s quite often that I ignore those calls, so I’m happy I didn’t in this case.
The purpose of this first call was for the Service Canada to assess the urgency of my needs for the passport, so they could further triage the workload among the pool of applicants who needed passport services over the coming two months.
I informed them that I needed to renew my passport due to a lack of empty pages, and that I envisioned travelling around mid-to-late January if my China visa application were successful.
A few days later, I received a second call to schedule my in-person appointment at a passport office.
The agent asked me for my planned travel date, and when I said I didn’t have anything booked just yet, she said she simply needed to put down “any date” and invited me to pick an arbitrary date in January. It appears that the requirement for proof of upcoming travel isn’t so strict at all.
She also let me know that in addition to my Simplified Adult Renewal application and passport photos, I also needed to bring a written statement explaining why I was renewing a passport that still had six years of validity left on it. I typed up the following in a Word document and it seemed to suffice:
I would like to cancel my 10-year Canadian passport (passport number *****) with an expiry date of *****, because it has run out of empty pages. I would like to renew my passport under the enclosed Adult Simplified Renewal Passport Application.
(Of course, I’ve learned my lesson from last time and applied for a five-year passport this time around.)
Meanwhile, even though most retailers in Toronto were shut down during this period, I was happy to see that my local Shoppers Drug Mart was still offering passport photo services.
The price point of $21.99 was a bit over-the-top, but I happily paid up for the convenience of getting the photos done in 10 minutes right across the street from me.
With that, I was all set for my appointment at the passport services office in Toronto at 74 Victoria St for mid-December.
Note that the office is displayed as “closed until further notice” on the Government of Canada website, but what this really means is that it’s closed to online appointments, and is only open by appointments as scheduled over the phone. I imagine the same is true for passport services offices in other Canadian cities as well.
The process went smoothly, just like my previous passport renewals, and I paid the $50 extra for rush service so that I could get a head start on the labyrinthine China visa applications in January (and knowing that there’s no guarantee it’ll be successful).
On New Year’s Eve, I headed back to the office to pick up my freshly minted Canadian passport, with the gold crest and text still glimmering under the light. I’m looking forward to getting some stamps and visas in here when travel picks up again in the future.
With Service Canada being understaffed and passport offices closed during the pandemic, I was initially quite uncertain as to how the process of renewing my Canadian passport would go. I was pleased that it was relatively smooth process in the end.
If you require passport services in the near future (whether you’re renewing a passport, applying for a brand-new one, or seeking certified copies for an ITIN application), you’ll either need to speak with Service Canada to schedule an in-person appointment or submit your application via mail.
For those who have urgent travel needs in the upcoming period, rest assured that Service Canada remains well-equipped to help Canadians with their passport services needs, even though its locations remain closed to the public.
Meanwhile, you’ll most likely be asked to deal with Service Canada via mail if your needs aren’t urgent. If you have concerns about sending your passport through the mail, consider using a courier service with tracking capabilities to make the process a lot more secure.