It might be easier than travel.state.gov thinks to go through a passport renewal. I burnt up four solid hours in travel time today for nothing. I’ve calmed down quite a bit, but am still smoldering a little. Hopefully someone else won’t have to waste any of their time on this topic. Or Madam Secretary will give me a shout out. That would make things a little better, too.
My passport expires in March 2013. Sarah and I have read that some countries do not allow U.S. citizens (or perhaps others) to enter if the holder’s passport has fewer than six months of validity remaining. OK, so this is a good time of year to get my new passport renewal application rolling.
I hit up travel.state.gov and found the link to renew my passport pretty quickly:
That takes you to this page. At first glance, I meet all the requirements for a passport renewal by mail:
But hold on there a minute. Let’s scroll down. Hmm. Super-good for those stateside. What about the rest of us?
Scrolling further, we find it:
OK, darn, I guess I have to go to the nearest Embassy or Consulate. In Munich. Minimum two hours of travel one way means I have to take a day off of work. But you know what? It’s worth it to me, even though I can’t really afford the time away from work, to make sure that I can fly out on a trip somewhere (perhaps even an emergency business trip) without fearing I’ll forget about passport expiration closer to the expiration date. OK.
So I click that link in the last screen shot above and navigate my way to the Munich Consulate website. I click on “U.S. citizen services” and that redirects me to http://germany.usembassy.gov/acs/index.html. Near the bottom of that page, I see something about prohibited items, including electronics. I’m a pretty well-connected guy — electronically speaking — so I click on the link to their PDF, where I see the following:
So — I’m supposed to leave my stuff in a locked car (I don’t have a car). Or leave it at the train station, about a half-hour away from the consulate when traveling by public transit? And if I try to bring my stuff with me anyways, they will ask me to THROW IT AWAY? Unless it’s an umbrella, which they are willing to babysit for me.
Okay, fine. Sarah needed to visit Munich for her choir practice this evening anyways. She could hold onto my stuff while I was at the consulate. On that same page, there’s a link to their appointment page (they don’t take walk-in appointments anymore). I schedule an appointment and thought I was good-to-go.
About a month later, early this morning, I noticed on my appointment confirmation sheet that I maybe supposed to have my homework ready to turn in:
Huh? What forms? I’m just supposed to renew in person, right? So, I scrambled. I came up with Form DS-82 as my best guess for a passport renewal by mail, even though the websites I’d already seen said I’m not eligible for that. We hit a local passport photo booth on the way off our island towards Regensburg Hbf.
We did the 1.5 hours to München Hbf, changed to the U4/5 Richtung Arabella Park and hoofed the last 10 minutes toward Königinstraße. I specifically wore my rainjacket with the brimmed hood to avoid the umbrella topic altogether. I dropped all my confiscatable stuff off with Sarah. Outside the consulate entrance there’s a bulletin board with a notice about passport renewal by mail. I asked the security guard if that was perhaps an obsolete notice someone forgot to take down. “Um, no, that’s still valid as far as I know, sir.” This was Bad Sign #1.
I entered the security zone, and passed the check with flying colors (though the guards were bewildered that I had no car keys for them to confiscate. Hey guys, have you ever tried to park outside the consulate grounds?). Another gentleman was visiting the consulate at the same time as me, and going through the security check as well. How come they were all smiles about this other dude’s Samsung Galaxy and his umbrella? Should there not have been some drama about his Big Phone / Tiny Tablet landing in the garbage? This was Bad Sign #2.
I was the first appointment of the day, ready and waiting with all my conceivable paperwork, and Homes McClerk says
Okay, but why didn’t you do all this by mail?
I sighed. I really didn’t want to hear that. I said, “I looked at the website. It said I have to find the nearest embassy or consulate. I live in Regensburg. This is Munich. That’s why I’m here now.” He said, “I’ve got the website up right now. usembassy.de right?”*
I said, “No, I usually get my travel- and passport related info from travel.state.gov. Can you look it up there please?”
He said, “Yeah, look, it’s right here, ‘Renew By Mail if All of the Following are True’…” I interrupted: “Scroll down, please.” He said, “From inside the United States…” I prompted: “Keep scrolling.” He said, “From outside the United States. Oh…we’ve got to fix that. Did you bring your Self-Address Stamped Envelope?”
I think the steam was curling out of my ears at this point, so he said “Look, I’ve got an envelope right here and you can get a stamp from the Briefmarkenautomat right over there on the wall. You brought a European-format passport picture, and those sometimes don’t work with our passport scanner — it depends on how big your head is — so let me check here with the expert whether we can use these pictures you brought down with you, since you spent money on them.”
He came back about five seconds later all smiles. I guess my head is of adequate size. We’ll see in about two weeks.
Side note for hairsplitters:
How in the HELL would I think of looking up usembassy.de when travel.state.gov refers me to the nearest embassy or consulate and does not ever hyperlink to that address!?