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URASOE, Okinawa — If you’re going home for the holidays, the staff that takes care of passports at your closest U.S. embassy or consulate has a favor to ask of you:

Take a look at your passport right now and make sure it’s still valid.

“One of the biggest problems we have during the holidays is people don’t realize their passports have expired,” said Kaoru Agena, one of four people at the U.S. Consulate in Okinawa who process the paperwork for some 5,000 passports a year. “It’s not uncommon for us to get a call from the airport from someone who is in a panic because they have tickets for the next flight back to the States and they’re stuck because their passports expired.”

She remembers one family with five children that called the consulate begging for emergency passports.

“It’s not as uncommon as you might think,” said co-worker Sumie Higa. “In 2003 we issued 432 emergency passports and for the first eight months of this year, we have issued 158.”

All military members and their dependents must start the process of obtaining or renewing passports with their military passport office.

On Okinawa

Visit the Okinawa consulate’s Web site at http://naha.usconsulate.gov for more information.

In Japan

U.S. Embassy officials in Tokyo agree it’s crucial that Americans verify their passports’ expiration dates, particularly before holiday travel.

“Every year, some Americans have their holiday or vacation travel plans spoiled when they realize belatedly that their passports have expired, and there is nothing the embassy can do to help them,” said embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryant.

Emergency passports can be issued only for life-or-death emergencies, she said. Individuals who forgot them or overlooked an expiration date aren’t eligible to receive one.

She declined to say how many emergency passports have been issued over the past two years, saying only that the U.S. Embassy issues them to “all who need them for real life-or-death emergencies.”

Bryant said passports can be renewed up to six months before expiration. The normal processing time is three weeks, but that could take longer during peak periods.

“We encourage people not to wait,” she said, “but to apply early so they can avoid unnecessary worries about holiday and other travel plans.”

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, both the Air Force and the Navy have passport offices to help servicemembers and dependents with passport issues, including renewal and extension of official and tourist passports, according to Misawa spokesman Tech. Sgt. Mikal Canfield.

Official passport renewal, completed in Washington, D.C., takes about two months; a tourist passport renewal, issued from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, takes about 4 weeks, Canfield said.

Call DSN 226-3121 for more information.

Information also is available at the U.S. Embassy’s Web site for American Citizen Services at www.tokyoacs.com.

In South Korea

The U.S. Embassy in South Korea warns that it sometimes experiences delays in returning passports to U.S. citizens seeking service. Normal processing takes two to three weeks, the embassy said, but sometimes can take four.

To phone the embassy passport section commercially, call 02-397-4114. More information can be found at the embassy Web site: usembassy.state.gov.

The military also maintains an office on Yongsan Garrison that can advise on passport matters and SOFA issues for servicemembers and their dependents. The Relocation Readiness office, in the Army Community Services building on South Post, can be reached at DSN 738-7999.

Joseph Giordono, Vince Little and Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.

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