Passports. Grr…

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A cross-cultural life adds at least one extra dimension to life: the ongoing need for passports and visas. In our case we life is getting a bit easier. As the kids get older, we can get passports valid for 6 years (Mexican) and 5 years (U.S.). Once they are 16 years old, we can apply for a 10 year passport (U.S.). Everybody has both a Mexican and U.S. passport except me, and now with permanent residency, my paperwork obligations have virtually disappeared.

Except for passport renewals. All three of the kids’ U.S. passports expired last month. We are going to the U.S. next month. Thus, a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

How hard could that be, right? I made appointments as late as I could on a Thursday morning…two kids at 9:30 a.m. and the other at 9:45 a.m. We picked up Anson, who was visiting near us at the time, and left the house at around 7:15 a.m. That’s 2 1/4 hours to drive about 24 miles. Should be plenty of time.

I made the reservations for the passport renewal appointment on line.  I did so on my iPad (thanks mom and dad). After reserving the time I was given a code for the appointment and a password. Also a link to print something out. But I was on my iPad, with no wireless printer, so I just took a picture of the screen. I figured that the link that was provided to print something out was going to allow me to print out my appointment code and password. Makes sense, right? I thought so.

Our trip to the embassy was horrific. We BARELY made it to the embassy on time. That’s 20 some miles in over 2 hours. You can figure out how fast we were going most of the time. Getting into the embassy is, well, not exactly like being warmly welcomed to a piece of your dear home country. Get rid of your cell phones, even your remote car door opener. Take your belt off, and get rid of any loose change.

Then we wait in another line to talk to a guy behind glass that could probably withstand a direct hit from a tank shell. Finally we are given tags and instructed to go to the first floor.

We get to the first floor, and I am expecting to find a nice young man who will give us the passport renewal applications for us to fill out. No, this does not happen. The young man behind another wall of glass tells us that we needed to bring the previously printed out form all filled out in order to get our passports renewed.  Ok, I calmly say, please give us a copy of the form so we can fill it out. Oh no, he responds, you have to print it out previous to coming. But you can print it out at an Cafe Internet or something. He shows us the form. HE IS HOLDING THE FORM! Can you make us a copy of that form, I ask, slightly raising my voice. No, I can’t, you need to print out the form. “Do you have an Internet station in the embassy complex (it only fills up half a  city block). No, they don’t.

SO YOU CAN’T GIVE ME A COPY OF THE FORM? I say, now noticeably less calm. Heads turn. The mechanical eyes in the nearest security cameras swing towards the going ballistic father of three.

My daughter slides up to me and says under her voice, “Dad, calm down, your embarrassing us!” I manage to ask the still irritatingly unapologetic young man behind the security glass…”where is the nearest Internet Cafe…..!”

So Anson and I left the fortress, found what I needed, and once again penetrated the interminable layers of embassy security. I mentioned to Anson that when I think about going to the U.S. Embassy, in my mind, I envision entering a piece of Americana, where everyone is friendly, old 80s muzak echoing in the halls, with the aroma of apple pie and freshly mowed lawns…or at least a bit of English! Anson said it was more like Homeland Security. Quite right.

Mayra and I scrawled the info on the two sheets of paper for each kid. I had the presence of mind to bring everyone’s social security numbers from home, the only piece of info I didn’t have memorized. I avoided going up to the window again, and finally we were called to pay for the passports.

We went to the friendly lady at the cashier’s window. $105 for each passport. Now, I obviously don’t have that much cash on me. And the system for payment is down. Yes, that’s right. We can’t pay with a credit card or debit card. The nice lady suggests that I leave the fortified embassy complex again to go to the nearest ATM and get out $300. No. No, we’ll wait. And we did. Finally, after about 10 minutes, our payment was accepted. Oh, and that fee did not include delivery. After payment the nice lady said…now, take these receipts down to the DHL office, pay another 100 pesos, and they should be delivered within 4 weeks.

Of course, in another 5 years, when we need to renew passports again, I’ll have forgotten all of this…and probably repeat this whole process all over again.

By the way, we still don’t have the passports. But hey, it hasn’t even been two weeks yet. Surely nothing else could happen in this process….!

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