Traveling Abroad? A Shutdown May Make That Tricky

Offices that issue passports and visas will close if there's a federal government shutdown. That will create headaches to people who need a last-minute passport for overseas travel they've booked — and for foreigners who want visas to visit the U.S.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

If you are planning travel out of the country, maybe a spring break abroad, a government shutdown might keep you from going, that is if you don't have the necessary documents.

NPR's Zoe Chace explains.

ZOE CHACE: Ben Field(ph) showed up at the Washington, D.C. passport office in his pajamas.

Mr. BEN FIELD: My mom has been bugging me for a year since my passport has actually been expired. You know, I figured I might as well wait till last minute to actually do it, you know.

CHACE: Procrastinators, you never think about the government until its right in front of you. Take Ben Field. He's not even sure where he's going.

Mr. FIELDS: The Bahamas, I think. I'm going with a friend's family. They pretty much asked me to join them, so I figured I might as well.

CHACE: When is this happening?

Mr. FIELDS: Sixteenth of April. So I need to get my passport renewed as soon as possible, pretty much.

CHACE: With the shutdown looming, a growing number of procrastinators are calling up passport expediting companies. Carlos Ciccone runs nationalPassport.com.

Mr. CARLOS CICCONE (Co-Owner, NationalPassport.com): People that have planned ahead, you know, don't really need to use our service.

CHACE: Procrastinators aren't the only ones affected if this office disappears for a few days. Nicholas Stresza(ph) is a pilot.

Mr. NICHOLAS STRESZA: I couldn't fly to Russia, and I couldn't fly to China without the proper documents.

CHACE: You can also pick up your birth certificate here, which is why Theresa Ballance(ph) showed up. Without it...

Ms. THERESA BALLANCE: I probably wouldn't be able to get an I.D. for a couple months, and it keeps me out of work.

CHACE: The passport office closed during the last government shutdown. And there is a plan if it happens again.

Ms. NICOLE THOMPSON (Spokesperson, State Department): The State Department has an extensive contingency plan for what will happen in the case of a government shutdown.

CHACE: Nicole Thompson is a spokesperson with the State Department. She says that no matter what, overseas consulates will be open for American citizens who need to get a visa. And the State Department is moving ahead with their plans for a National Passport Day this weekend.

But she won't offer any details on what the contingency plan will be for the procrastinators in line at the passport office.

Zoe Chace, NPR News.

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