We are planning a trip to Singapore over the Christmas holiday. Singapore, like many countries, requires that your passport be valid for at least 6 months from date of entry.
Our daughter’s is not.
So we are renewing our daughter’s passport overseas. And it turns out is amazingly easy to renew a US passport in Mongolia, at it is least theoretically.
To renew a passport for a minor here all you have to do is bring the kid, her passport, both parents and their passports, along with her original birth certificate, a completed application, and appropriately sized photo (and copies of the various legal documents), and a method of payment to the embassy at your appointed time. We easily scheduled an appointment online and they sent us a reminder the day before with a list of documents that we needed.
Seems easy enough. And it probably is for most people. But we are not most people and it got a little complicated.
First, even though our daughter’s school is right across the river from the embassy, we had to take a taxi because the route is indirect and it just seemed too far to make her walk with crutches (fun fact: the literal translation of the Mongolian word for crutches is “armpit cane”). So we grabbed a taxi, stopped to get gas (we were driving less than a kilometer) and continued to the embassy. Mildly ridiculous, but easy enough.
We gave them our names to the guard at the front, were directed to check in at the ger in the parking lot with our passports (that’s kind of fun), and were then instructed to go through security. At security they checked our passports again, made us turn off our phones then locked them in a locker, and do the basic metal detection stuff you’d experience going into any government building. It took us about 10 minutes to get through because they kept seeing stuff on the x-ray that they couldn’t find in our bags, then take out all the stuff they wouldn’t allow in.
Cory’s camera, charger, and various cords got locked behind. My measuring tape was allowed through. I had brought it with me because I remembered, after we took her to school, that we forgot to measure her and record her height on the application. She’s 141 centimeters, if you’re wondering. I couldn’t convert that to feet and inches because they’d already locked up my phone and dividing 141 by 2.2 in my head just wasn’t worth it.
They sent us to the waiting room. Then a minute later popped in to tell us where the consular office was. Then a minute later popped in to tell us we should go there, why were we still in the waiting room?
I would like to note that all of the buildings that we went in and through, including the ger, had a ramp if there were steps, which is something I notice now that I havce a kid who has armpit canes in a not-very-accessible country, so good job, US Embassy!
We went into another small waiting room, with lots of other people, got a ticket, and were called up almost immediately. The lady looked at our application, mistook my daughter and I as the same person on the photocopies of our passports (our middle and last names are the same). Should I be flattered by this? I just got my haircut and people tell me I look much younger…but 28 years younger? Hmmm…
We were then sent to the cashier and this is where the fun begins. We were told in the reminder email that we could bring a US issued bank card to pay the fees, so we did. But their card reader wasn’t working. So the cashier told Cory he’d have to go get cash and come back. We asked if my daughter and I needed to stay. She said that no, we could go.
So Cory went to get cash from an ATM (with my card because he had already used the limit on his today) and LeYanna and I took a taxi home. Then Cory got back and went through security again only to find, after he’d paid that LeYanna and I need to be there because they had to interview us.
Before he left to go back through security, get his phone and call us, the embassy personnel asked if he wouldn’t mind signing a document as a witness because they needed two non-staff American people to serve as witnesses and, lucky for them, there were exactly two in the waiting room. So, whoever needed that signature benefited from our mishap. You are welcome, fellow traveler.
So, Cory got out, called us and waited for us in the ger. I dragged my daughter back out of the apartment, down to the road (about 75 on crutches, she’s a champ), caught a taxi to drive the 1 kilometer to the embassy, went back through security (this time without my tape measure), back through all the buildings and doors so we could raise our right hands and LeYanna could be asked, “Where were you born?” and we could be asked, “So are you guys English teachers?”
With that, our application was approved and we were told that we could pick up the passport on the afternoon of the Tuesday after we were notified by email that it was ready. It should only take about two weeks.
So, here’s the thing. There was a problem with the card reader, which was annoying. And there was a miscommunication in which we understood we could leave and not come back. And there was repetitive security with so many doors. Also, in general, there are lots of guards and guns at the embassy, it’s not a super-friendly feeling place. BUT everyone was so helpful. And nice. And they let us leave and come back when they probably could have told us we weren’t able to complete the tasks today (because of the card reader error, and because LeYanna and I left prematurely). But they didn’t. They apologized for the error and the miscommunication and we got everything done that needed to be done.
Not counting the taxis, it all took less than 90 minutes. To put that in perspective, when I lived in Atlanta and wanted to get my name changed on my driver’s licence it took seven and a half HOURS at the DMV. AND we’ll get it back in about two weeks, which is much quicker than I remember it working in the US.
Of course, then we have to figure out how to get her visa transferred to this passport because you can’t just cut and paste those things, even if it’s for the same person. But that’s a challenge for another day and we’ll ask our visa wrangling friends to hold our hands through that process.
And now we’re ordering pizza for dinner because that was stressful enough to justify not cooking.