Earlier this month, I shared my adventure of travelling home on expired documents, because I needed to renew my Jamaican passport in time for a Caribbean cruise. I’m now on that cruise, and so, having successfully pulled off this daring feat, I will now advise you on how to do the same.
Keep in mind that as we say in Jamaica, “A nuh everybody have luck fi carr’ goat ‘cross river”. In other words, I’m sharing what worked for me, but attempt this at your own risk. If you can renew your Jamaican passport by more conventional means, then do use those routes instead.
However, if you find yourself in as desperate a position as I was, and you acknowledge and accept the risk of failure and potential denial of entry back into the United States, this is for you. If you are simply curious about how I managed to get in and out of the United States on expired documents under the current presidency, then this is also for you.
Please note: I am not a legal or immigration expert, so if you need legal advice, please consult a professional.
Step 1. Check If Necessary
If I had done this from the start, I would never have found myself in the position I was in. I booked my cruise from so early in the year that I could have had my passport renewed several times over for a fraction of the cost. However, against my better judgement as a traveller of two decades, and against the advice of my travel agent, I set it aside to tend to other matters. It turns out that I did most definitely need my passport to go on the cruise.
Do you need yours for your upcoming destination? Do your research. Check online sources and make all the calls you need to.
Step 2. Find Your Consulate
So, it turns out you definitely need to renew your passport. The first thing you need to do now is find the Jamaican Consulate that serves your state. As many disgruntled Jamaicans will tell you, it may be difficult to find your consulate as this was one of the big reasons I kept procrastinating. Every office I found was closed or just did not respond to my emails.
I eventually found my consulate with the help of one of my friends who is a flight attendant. Despite living in Atlanta, Georgia, my consulate was the Consulate General of Jamaica in Miami, Florida. If you also have family and friends who work in the travel industry, ask them for help.
Step 3. Check Process Times
Once you have located your consulate, it’s important to check the processing and delivery time. In general, most consulates will tell you that it takes six weeks to receive your documents. However, some often take longer than the alleged six weeks, depending on whether or not it’s peak season, and whether or not there is an issue with the documents you submitted.
At the time, I had exactly six weeks left before the cruise, but I don’t trust Jamaicans to get things done on time—least of all the government. Have you ever heard of “Jamaican time”? It’s that other time Jamaicans run on that conventional watches and clocks don’t support. If a party starts at 8:00 PM and ends at 2:00 AM, you can expect Jamaicans to show up at 1:30 AM and throw a fit half an hour later when the bar closes and the DJ starts to pack his things.
NOTE: As far as I know, there are currently no express services or express options via the consulate to renew your passport.
Step 4. Identify the Documents You Need
Whether or not you choose to renew your Jamaican passport the conventional way or my way, you will need to identify the documents you need. This may vary based on the country you currently live in and may change over time, so please use the updated information on your consulate’s website. For me, this was the list of documents I needed to renew my Jamaican passport on U.S. soil.
If like me, you plan to renew your passport on Jamaican soil, then ignore everything your consulate says and consult with the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) for Jamaica to find necessary documents and fees.
NOTE: Remember that Jamaica typically does not accept copied documents to renew your passport, so be prepared to bring your originals with you. If you are married or have changed your name for any other reason, be sure to bring documents to support this. Also, do not have your passport photos taken in the United States. More on this later.
Step 5. Build a Budget
If you are able to renew your passport from the U.S., then building a budget is easy. All you need to do is pay the fees on the website. For the rest of us, you will need to budget for the following expenses:
- Passport renewal fees
- Living expenses for the week
The entire trip cost me US $1,100. My flight was $400.08 on Spirit Airlines, including a checked bag and a free carry-on item. I paid my friend $100 for putting me up. Renewing my visa cost me $115. The rest of the money I spent on food, gifts for my family and friends, and my day-trip across the island to snorkel at Doctor’s Cave Beach.
Step 6. Book Your Trip
If you have family and friends in the travel industry, find out if they are able to provide you with a buddy pass for the trip. My friend had just run out of buddy passes, so I had to pay for my flight out of pocket. My travel agent secured me a round trip via Kingston on Spirit Airlines. It could have been cheaper than $400, but I checked a bag so I could bring back Jamaican food.
Montego Bay does not have express options, so unless you have two weeks off, you will need to renew your passport in Kingston. Because of this, it’s best to fly into Kingston. However, it will likely be more expensive to do so. If you are dead-set on flying into Montego Bay and don’t have a ride to Kingston, then book your bus ride on Knutsford Express. A round trip will cost you around $50 as of November 2018.
NOTE: I stayed with friends and have never paid to stay in a hotel in Jamaica, but you can shop around for rates or ask my travel agent.
Step 7: Find an Official to Notarise Your Documents
In Jamaica, our notaries are called Justice of the Peace. However, unlike notaries in the United States, you can not simply walk into a bank or other official place of business and request their assistance. You also cannot attempt to bribe them by providing payment as they provide a free service to the community and may have their licence revoked for accepting payment. Typically, these officials must know you or a family or friend for 6 months or more before notarising your documents.
While having my documents notarised by a JP in Kingston, I was told that it may be possible to enlist the help of other established community leaders, like a pastor. However, rules change over time, so please look into this carefully before choosing this route. Your best bet is always a JP, but whoever you choose, they will need to sign your passport renewal form and your pictures. So, don’t wait until you arrive on the island to look for one!
NOTE: You need to fill out your passport form before asking a JP to sign it, because the JP will be using their signature and stamp to verify that the information on your documents is true and that you are who you say you are.
Step 8: Check In at the Airport
This is the step when you’ll finally have some skin in the game—the step when you take your first big risk. So, be prepared for drama. Fortunately, international law is on your side. Generally speaking, you cannot be denied access into your own home country if you can prove that it is in fact your home country, have paid for your ticket, and have a valid ID. Even so, people will try.
Because of this, you must arrive early so you can deal with any delays your expired documents will cause. If your green card is also expired and on an extension, like mine was, you will need another valid ID, so ensure you have a driver’s license or state ID at the ready. Do not forget your extension letter from USCIS for your green card, if you have one. It also doesn’t hurt to have your birth certificate and don’t forget your expired passport. You will need these for the renewal anyway.
NOTE: Let some family and friends in Jamaica and the U.S. know what you plan to do, just in case things go wrong. When you arrive in Jamaica, the immigration officer is unlikely to give you a hard time, but they may warn you that you cannot leave the island without a valid passport. They may also refuse to stamp your passport, because it is expired and therefore not a valid document.
Step 9: Change Currency
Once you arrive in Jamaica, you will need to change your currency. The cambio at the airport in Kingston refused to convert my USD into JMD, because of my expired passport. They also would not accept my green card—extension or no—and would not even look at my American driver’s license. They would only accept a valid passport or a Jamaican driver’s license.
To get around this, you may have to make a few friends on the plane or while waiting in the immigration line. Ask them to change the currency for you. Or, if you are being picked up by a family member or friend, ask for their assistance.
Step 10: Take Pictures
I warned you not to take your Jamaican passport pictures in America; here’s why. America is not very strict when it comes to standards regarding the pictures they use for official purposes. Jamaica is. Jamaica has rules governing everything from whether or not you can smile to the colour of the background and what you can wear in the photo.
Jamaican photographers know these rules and will even advise you on how to angle your head. If you don’t have the right clothing, they will also provide you with a jacket or shirt to wear. I took my passport pictures at the same place I took my UTech graduation photos in Kingston ie Bryan’s Studio.
Step 11: Get Notarised
If you are proactive like me, then you would have made an appointment to get your documents notarised as soon as possible. Do not procrastinate on this as you cannot move forward before completing this step. I took my photos within hours of arriving and had my photos notarised before going to bed that same day.
Again, remember to fill out the passport form before getting them notarised. Do not ask a JP to sign blank documents. If there are areas of the form you aren’t sure about, fill them in with pencil until you get there and ask if the information is fine as is. I also brought extra blank copies of the form, just in case.
Step 12: Go to PICA
I got up early the following morning and headed directly to the passport office. By 8:00 AM that morning, I had submitted my documents and paid my fees. I advise you to do the same. There are multiple express options with varying prices including same day and next day. In order to get your passport on the same day, however, you must finish payment and submission by 10:00 AM. Any later and you will have to wait until 2:00 PM the following day to pick up your document.
NOTE: Remember to double-check that all your information is correct, including the spelling of your name and the express option on your receipt. Also, you will be asked to provide a Jamaican number in case they need to call you to make corrections, so be sure to choose a responsible friend who can and will answer their phone during regular business hours.
Step 13: Pick Up Your Passport
No matter how early you get there, you will not be allowed to pick up your passport before 2:00 PM, even if it’s already ready and waiting. However, you should still get there early to beat the line. I arrived 20 minutes early and was checked in and allowed to sit in an air-conditioned area until pickup time.
Bring your receipt and all the documents you used at the time of submission, just in case they need to make any changes or corrections. Also, when you get your passport, double-check that all your information is correct. If you have an E or I—or worse, both letters—in your name, you are more likely than others to have your name misspelled on Jamaican documents. Don’t take this lightly. Only after you have confirmed everything is correct should you sign the paperwork presented and leave.
Step 14: Return to the United States
Getting to Jamaica on an expired passport and green card is the easy part. Returning to America after renewal—especially if your green card is also in limbo like mine was—is the tricky part. To ensure this is as smooth a process as possible, keep all your documents together in one area so you can present everything to the American immigration officer upon arrival.
If your home state is notorious for poor treatment of immigrants or does not have a lot of immigrants (Texas, Arizona, Nebraska etc.), clear customs and immigration in another state. The Atlanta airport has a bit of a reputation for giving immigrants a hard time when we pass through, which I have experienced before myself, so I cleared customs and immigration in Fort Lauderdale and struck gold. My immigration officer did not hassle me at all.
NOTE: Regardless of my easy way in, prepare for the worst. While trying to board my cruise, I was hassled by officers in Miami who questioned the validity of my documents. Even worse, the woman was Latina, herself! And, one of my friends who is a flight attendant has told me about being harassed by officers in Texas over her documents. When I was returning to the U.S., I had my lawyer on speed dial, just in case! If you have that option, use it.
Travelling on expired documents is always a risk, even when the point of the trip is to renew those documents. However, with proper planning, budgeting, professional legal advice and a bit of luck, you can renew your Jamaican passport in 48 hours or less and maybe even make time for some fun along the way, as I did.
Please note that I renewed my passport in roughly 49 hours (arrived in Jamaica Monday 12:51 PM and had my passport by around 2:10 PM Wednesday). This is because I had the time on my hands to choose next day instead of same day express. Choose the option that best works for your time and budget.
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