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Is it really? Certainly, some things have become very advanced. Others are most definitely not. I just renewed my passport. A process made much more difficult by not being in the US or with a 10-45 day stay in the capital of a country with a US Embassy or a city with a US Mission or Consulate.

Regrets

I regret not renewing my passport before I took the job in Kuwait. But the company said it would delay my start date and I believed them. [Note: It wouldn’t have delayed anything.] Before sending my passport off for renewal I had one blank page left. Many countries require your passport to be valid for 6 months after the trip, and some countries require 2 facing blank pages. One for a full page visa and one for exit and entry stamps.

One blank page left

“Speed Costs Money. How Fast Do You Want To Go?”

There are multiple companies that will expedite a passport for you for a fee, over and above the State Department’s fees. They can be a blessing! Image losing your passport before your destination wedding. An expeditor can turn around a passport in 2-4 business days. It varies depending on how much you pay. The can even deliver your new passport to you at an airport! (Some airports.)

For me in Spain, it meant printing the forms for the passport application and the expeditor, express shipping my documents to the US, paying fees, having the passport express shipped to my aunt and having her express ship it to me because none of the expeditors I looked at wouldn’t ship overseas. [NOTE: I prefer to attribute the quote to Carroll Shelby.]

Antiquated Paperwork

To fill out a form online is a snap, ok several clicks, but you get the point. The State Department does allow you do this. But then you must print it out. I don’t own a printer. I haven’t owned a printer since 2011! If you’re working a regular office job, you can probably print the form at the office. If you’re traveling and staying in hotels, they may have a business center for you to use.

When I set up my LLC, it was all online. Online forms, online payments, online confirmations, online proof, and almost everything was done instantaneously. Not via 4 bus rides over 2 days.

I had to track down a place to print the forms. It took 2 trips, because I assumed (yeah, yeah, I know) that I’d be able to print from my phone or the internet. Happily, there are lots of bodegas who will print documents for you, for small service fees. Sadly, they needed USB sticks and thus the second trip.

Payments

In the age of credit cards, PayPal, Stripe, and more, I didn’t bring my US checkbook on this wandering. (We will call this assumption 2.) I understand the State Department not wanting to accept cash but shake my head at the refusal to accept credit cards. Is it because they don’t want to pay the fees to accept credit cards? Then they should do like many organizations and charge an additional fee for using a card.

If you’re in a city with an American Express office you can purchase traveler’s checks which might be ok. Otherwise, you’re stuck asking someone for assistance. Luckily the passport expediting service I used will also pay the application fee for an added $10 fee. I was afraid I’d have to send the application to a family member, then have them write the check, send to the expeditor, have the expeditor return it to them to express ship back to me in Spain.

Communications

While trying to send my application I had a strange moment at the post office in Spain. I politely asked if the woman spoke English, she didn’t. In Spanish, I asked if they had internet. She again said she didn’t speak English. I thought OK, maybe it’s a different word in Spanish. But it’s not (I checked). C’est la vie. Once I’d completed all of their forms I got back in line for an agent.

I didn’t include my phone number on the form, which prompted the agent to ask for my number. I explained that I didn’t have a Spanish number. The woman from the previous paragraph came over and pointing to my phone asked for my mobile number. I said it was a US phone. This greatly confused the agent processing my order and the other woman.

As of July 2017, cell phone roaming within the Eurozone is free. If I had a German, French, Italian, etc number they would all work with no extra charges. I have T-Mobile US which provides me 2G internet and free text messages in 140 countries, not quite the same, but good enough that I don’t buy a new SIM every time I move.

All together it cost me about $500 extra to get a new passport to me in 3 weeks. If I’d done international next day shipping both ways it would have been $800 and about a week.

There were some worrying moments:

  • Being in a foreign country without a passport.
  • When the expeditor said the State Dept held my application but wouldn’t provide a reason. The “next day” service I’d paid for ended up being 4 days, during which the expeditor provided very little explanation on the delays.
  • When tracking the package guaranteed for delivery on one day and not arriving. It did arrive the next morning and I got the cost of shipping refunded because they didn’t deliver within the guaranteed window!

Tip: The State Dept does not consider a lost passport an emergency. If you lose your passport, you must schedule an appointment with American Citizen Services (ACS) at the closest Embassy or Consulate for a replacement.

Tip: Keep paper and electronic copies of your passport with you when traveling.

Tip: If you need a passport quickly, check out this Dept of State page. [Expeditors generally include the $60 expedite and overnight shipping fees in their costs.]

Tip: I need to keep my old passport because my yellow fever international certificate of vaccination is associated with my old passport.

CJ

I have visited 67 and lived in 7 different countries. I speak English, Spanish, French, and Russian. I like to hike, ski, dive, eat, drink, and wander the wonders of the world.

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