Cost of a U.S. Passport in 1984
December 19, 2018 3:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm still writing my story that takes place in 1984 when some poor schmuck (me!) needed to purchase a U.S. passport--an expedited passport no less. So I am looking for the cost of the passport, plus the extra fee for expediting the process. I have no memory of what these items cost and am hoping someone can come to my rescue. Thank you!
posted by Ira Weston to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
I can't help with 1984, but I remember getting really cheap flights from Chicago to London in 1997, the year American Airlines went on strike. Then Clinton ordered them back, and tickets were on sale. BUT, I didn't have a passport.

I had to go to the passport office in downtown Chicago, and pay for the passport, plus the expedited fee, which included them FedXing it to my house in 3 weeks or less, and that was $90, total. I remember that a good part of that was for the expedition fee plus the FedX delivery.

My husband went to France in 1970, he bought his airline ticket, then went to the passport office downtown (NYC), and got his passport. That was not much money, as the rules were different then, and he was a dancer, so he couldn't have paid that much. So there was no expedition fee, you got the passport the same day, as long as you showed them an airline ticket. His estimate is that it was maybe $50, but he's not sure.

The Post Office has been handling them since 1970s, according to the 2nd paragraph here, they might be able to answer your question.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:07 PM on December 19, 2018

NY Times, Jan. 30, 1983, "TRAVEL ADVISORY: DUTY-FREE IMPORTS, NEW PASSPORTS; Customs Raises Duty-Free Allowance" (emph. added):
One of the last great travel bargains has come to an end - the $10 passport. But in return for paying a higher fee - $35 - which took effect at the beginning of the year, most Americans will receive a passport with twice the life span. Where the old $10 fee fetched a passport valid for five years, the new $35 fee pays for a passport that is good for a decade.
It goes on to mention that it'll cost $20 for people under 18 and there's a $7 surcharge if you don't return your old passport, but there's no mention of what the fee is for expedited service.
posted by mhum at 5:25 PM on December 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh wait. I think I got it.

Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 18, 1989, "Making Yourself Known / Learn Guidelines For Obtaining The Right Personal Identification":
The time required to receive a passport depends on how heavy the application volume is. At this time of year, receiving a passport should take two to three weeks, according to the Orlando passport office.

The process can be expedited by requesting a passport by express mail for a additional $17.50 charge.
posted by mhum at 5:57 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you both (Marie Mon Dieu & mhum) so much for taking the time to respond. mhum, I have no idea in the world how you find the links to that info but it is fantastic and I really appreciate your expertise and your time. That is exactly what I needed. Thank you again!
posted by Ira Weston at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2018

mhum, I have no idea in the world how you find the links to that info

My trick is that my public library has online access to Proquest which has full-text search of lots of newspapers and magazines. I just had the hunch that passport fees must have changed at some point in the 1980s and hence reported in some newspaper.
posted by mhum at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2018

The $17.50 referred to in the Orlando Sentinel is not the expedite fee, it's the express shipping charge, which is distinct from, but required with, the expedited processing fee.
posted by wierdo at 11:46 PM on December 20, 2018

The $17.50 referred to in the Orlando Sentinel is not the expedite fee, it's the express shipping charge, which is distinct from, but required with, the expedited processing fee.

Yes, this is true. But, I strongly suspect that there actually wasn't any expedited processing available in the 1980s (and possibly wasn't until 1994). I didn't include that originally because my evidence for this is somewhat circumstantial.

First, the closest thing to direct evidence is this article from the NYT (Sept. 18, 1994), "Practical Traveler; Totaling Taxes Paid By Visitors":
However, before anyone exults in expectation of a general rollback in legislative add-ons, they should know the Government is about to lay on a $30 surcharge for travelers who want "expedited" passports, those issued or renewed in three days or less. As of Oct. 1, the tardy will pay $85 for a renewal, or $95 for a new passport.
The use of quotes around "expedited" and the phrasing suggests that this is a new service being offered. However, this alone is not conclusive.

Next, the indirect evidence is in numerous articles in the 1980s about long waits for passports where they never once mention any kind of expedited service, even though it would have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble (PS: it sounds like the process for getting a passport in the 1980s was a real hassle). The following are all from the NYT:

"TRAVEL ADVISORY; Coping in Paris On Bastille Day" (June 14, 1987):
The normal wait for a passport in New York is two to three weeks. Applications are processed according to departure date, with earlier departures getting higher priority.

However, people unable to wait several weeks can get their passports issued more expeditiously - if they show airline tickets or other proof of impending departure - at the agency's office, at 630 Fifth Avenue (between 50th and 51st Streets). About 1,100 people apply for passports at that office every day during the peak season and, said Mr. Briggs, ''We issue about 500 passports a day to people who are picking them up that day.''
"Travelers' Bottleneck: 5th Ave. Passport Office" (July 11, 1984):
People beyond the cut-off point were asked to go home, but many continued to wait, just in case they might squeak by. At 3:30 P.M., the doors to the passport office were locked and the crowd left in the lobby rode the escalator upstairs and began to mill around, banging on doors, angrily seeking entry to the office. The glass door to an administrative office was shattered.

There is an easier way. The Fifth Avenue office is the only one in the city where travelers can get a passport within days, or on the same day if necessary. But travelers can also apply through the mail or at post offices or court and county clerks' offices throughout the area. They will receive their passports in four to six weeks, Mr. St. Denis said.
"Lining Up For Passport: 'Nightmare' Of A Wait" (July 7, 1983):
Some people in line said they had tried applying at post office but had run out of time. Alice Sorenson said she had turned in her application at a Brooklyn post office seven weeks ago but had not received a passport.

For most people, however, last-minute travel plans forced them to wait in line at the agency to get their passports immediately. Many had departure dates this weekend or earlier.
There are others but I think you get the general picture.

Finally, here's an interesting quote from an article constrasting Al D'Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"2 Senators: More Than A Contrast In Styles" (Sept. 13, 1983):
''You would go to D'Amato if you wanted to get your passport expedited, but if you want a discussion on policy toward the People's Republic of China, you'd go to Moynihan,'' the Mayor said.
If expedited passport processing were a service you could just pay for, it seems to me that bugging your US senator about it would be a wildly over-the-top move.
posted by mhum at 3:50 PM on December 26, 2018

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