My trusty travel companion, who’s been with me on every flight and across every border, needs replacing. Of course I’m talking about my passport, not Sarah! (She is my FAVORITE travel companion, but truth be told, the passport has covered more miles with me than she has, owing to frequent business trips to Romania and occasional ones to other countries). Since it expires in March, and some countries won’t let you enter at the border if you’re in the six-months-to-expiration-window, I decided to renew somewhat early in a low-urgency period of the year. I was not happy about the discrepancies in the passport renewal process descriptions on the travel.state.gov sites (and as of this writing, they’re still there), and the unnecessary travel they caused me, but at least my new passport arrived quickly.
Getting a new passport, however, meant invalidating my current one, and my residence permit along with it. Fortunately, getting a new residence permit was not a big deal.
On a whim, I hit up www.regensburg.de to try and find out what they could tell me about the process. Short version: I didn’t find anything promising. But their Stadtverwaltung A-Z page included a mention of the department of foreigner matters (“Abteilung für Ausländerangelegenheiten“) with an email address. I fired off a one-liner to the effect of “Hi, my passport is expiring and I’m getting a new one, but what about my residence permit?” I did not really expect much in return, or a reply in a timely fashion, but to my pleasant surprise, I got a detailed answer in response just over an hour later. My favorite Ausländerabteilung clerk (she had purple hair when she processed us back in 2004; is it weird to mention that? To her?) explained that my residence permit would be replaced with a new electronic version in the shape of a credit card for €30. I just have to bring in my new passport and my old one (containing the still valid residence permit) to start the process. She even included a PDF brochure about the electronic residence permit renewal process.
It was surprisingly little. I got a paper copy of the same brochure I’d already seen — get your own copy in the language of your choice here — after signing a simple application document confirming some stuff already covered by my passport and a few new data: my eye color, my residential address (yay! finally, something government-issued with my address on it!), and height and eye color. That stuff goes onto the card in digitized format, along with two fingerprints, scanned inklessly right at the desk in the Bürgerzentrum. Less than two weeks later, I got some more paperwork in the mail from Berlin, containing super-secret PINs and PUKs and even a pre-defined yep-it’s-really-me codeword in case I have to call in and deactivate the card at some point. Why would I need to do that? It’s not just a residence permit. It’s also a form of encrypted on-line ID (provided your business partner accepts the electronic ID and you have a device at home to read your stuff off your card and allow you to enter a PIN and your OS supports the available drivers for that device, and…). So in case I need to prevent some identity theft, I can do so via phone, but only if I give the aforementioned password.
They’re only open until noon on Fridays, so I swooped in late this morning and signed a statement that I’d received my PINs and passwords from Berlin and allowed one final modification to that old passport: Frau Lilahaar stamped a big ol’ UNGÜLTIG over my existing residence permit and wrote in that it was transferred to another document due to the expiration of that passport. So, I can finally stop carrying both passports around (the new one, because the USA part of it is valid, and the old one, because that was my proof that I am allowed to be here…until today!).
Note: it is my understanding that although the residence permit cards have your picture on them and are issued by a government authority, and even contain all that neato electronic data about you, they don’t count as state-issued photo ID. And thus, I still have to carry my passport around with me to comply with that law that says I have to carry ID.
Anybody know why? Does it have something to do with citizenship of the issuing government, perhaps?
Dialect note: Frau Lilahaar asked me the following as I approached her desk today at the Ausländerabteilung in the Bürgerzentrum:
Sie wollen abholen, oder?
This confused me. I scrunched up a bewildered look on my face and asked, “Wie, Polen?” How could she possibly know we were planning a trip to Krakow?
“AB HOLEN,” she repeated.
Oh. I thought she was asking me, in Oberpfälzisch, if I wanted a document for Poland as well.
Sie wollen aa Polen, oder?
“aa” → “auch”