Peace Corps Volunteers are issued a special passport for business-related travel. There are two ways to apply for this: either mail in your current passport, if you have one, with the DS-82 (passport renewal) form; or fill out the DS-11 (new passport application) at a post office or other passport agency. If you complete the DS-82, the Peace Corps retains your passport and returns it when you arrive at Staging. Since I was planning to travel out of the country on one last family vacation, I decided to fill out the DS-11.
Now, government employees undergo a different process from other applicants — the mailing instructions are slightly altered, and they aren’t expected to pay the $110 passport fee. I checked online for a passport agency that would be open on a Saturday, since I had work, and found a nearby post office. I arrived at the post office around 9:30 to be informed that the passport office was closed on Saturdays (the mailwoman pointed to a closed door, beside which the hours “Saturday 9-11am” were clearly printed), and furthermore I had to have an appointment.
On Monday I started calling around to the nearby post offices. It turns out that government passports are not commonly issued: the first three offices I called had never heard of them, announced that they were not qualified to issue them, and were mightily suspicious by the phrase “no-fee” despite that I was quite literally quoting the DS-11. I attempted to call the Buffalo passport office, but got an automated line, a lot of being-on-hold, and the spectre of a $65 service fee independent of the passport fee itself.
Finally, I got hold of a very helpful passport agent, who said that she’d never done a no-fee passport, but she’d heard of them, and she was pretty sure it was in the manual — why didn’t we meet the Tuesday after Christmas, in about a week? She would do her research, and I could bring my instructions, and if for some reason she couldn’t do it she would give me a call. I thanked her slavishly before I hung up.
The actual application process was neither difficult nor especially different from the ordinary application, although it was terrifically awkward to tell a USPS employee that a U.S. government bureau does not allow its employee candidates to use USPS to mail their employment-related documents. (Something about a radioactive screening process that melts photo paper; I’m not sure why UPS and FedEx don’t have the same problem).
“I don’t know why the other offices said they couldn’t do it,” the agent told me cheerfully. “It’s all in the manual.”
Neither do I, I thought, and smiled at her.
In the beginning of December, my medical portal updated with the documentation required for clearance.
I am tremendously fortunate in that, being under 25, I’m still covered by my father’s insurance. (I could also have been insured through my document control job, but the coverage wasn’t as complete.) My medical expenses were minimal, though I know of people who had to shell out several thousand. I’ve seen a dentist and an optometrist regularly since early childhood and didn’t have to get much work done. I did, however, have to go through the intake process for an adult physician, since my pediatrician had politely and discreetly slipped me a transfer-of-care slip at my only visit as a college graduate.
My complete medical experience:
- Personal Migraine History: I get migraine headaches and had to write a personal statement about how I’d deal with them abroad. Not a problem — migraines only rarely interfere with my day-to-day.
- Dental: I’ve always had pretty good teeth and was due for a checkup around the time I received the forms. No problems.
- Optometric: the Peace Corps replaces your glasses if they break during service, but doesn’t support the use of contacts. I dropped off the prescription form when I stopped by to pick up my last six months of contacts; this month, when the insurance turned over, I bought a backup pair of glasses.
- Physical Part 1: I had to do an intake appointment with a new physician to establish my medical history and get my records transferred from the pediatrician. She issued me a script to get my bloodwork done.
- Immunizations Part 1: I was up-to-date with everything except my TDaP and an adult polio. When I had my intake appointment, my new physician informed me that they could to the TDaP but that she would have to write me a prescription for the polio, since it’s no longer part of the routine for U.S. adults. “They’ll give you a vial,” she told me, “just keep it in the fridge until you come for your next appointment.” It turns out that regular pharmacies aren’t licensed to distribute vaccines (shocker, right?) so I had no way to get the prescription filled.
- Bloodwork: I’d never gotten my blood drawn before and babbled inanely at the technician to hide my nerves. (It probably didn’t help that it was 6 a.m. and I hadn’t eaten.) Turns out six tubes of blood is significantly less than, say, the Red Cross asks for in a donation.
- Physical Part 2: My new physician was both thorough and brisk, though she flatly refused to examine (and therefore would not check off) the sections that fell under the gynecologist’s purview, and she forgot about the TDaP. My bloodwork was clean.
- Immunizations Part 2: I booked an appointment with a travel health organization to get my polio vaccine, and decided to do the TDaP while I was there. This cost me around $250, since the organization didn’t take my insurance.
- Pap Smear/Physical Part 3: I had to do intake with a gynecologist as well, but that was a much quicker process — just a few forms at the same appointment. The gynecologist was happy to fill out the sections of the physical my primary had left blank.
All said and done, I had submitted all medical documents by February 7th and received my medical clearance on February 9th.