Even though I am a legal resident of Costa Rica with a residential card or “Cedula” and thus a national ID number (which I have memorized), I am not a “citizen” which takes longer, is more complicated and is not one of my goals with no particular advantages for me (vote & CR Passport).
Thus I must retain my citizenship in the U.S. and that requires a valid U.S. Passport if “living abroad” (says the U.S.) though I no longer have to have a Costa Rica Visa stamped in it as a legal CR Resident. It just declares where I am a citizen (everyone must be a citizen somewhere), required by both countries, AND is required to travel internationally or even buy an international airline ticket. While I can travel domestically in Costa Rica with only my ID number or resident card, I used my U.S. Passport on those 3 trips I made to Nicaragua and Panama. A U.S. Passport is good for 10 years with my current one obtained in 2010, thus expiring in 2020, this year, on my birthday in July. And most countries require at least 6 months left on your passport to enter, thus needed now! Not as confusing as it may sound. But . . .
Process Before Going to Embassy
So, the first week of January I got on the U.S. Embassy Website to make an appointment for the renewal of my passport which they gave me for 28 January. No one can just walk into the embassy here – you MUST have an appointment first. It is like a huge military fortress of paranoid American bureaucrats surrounded by high concrete & steel walls and razor wire. Once you get in with an appointment, you are checked by dozens of armed guards, remove everything from your pockets and enter with no bag, purse, cellphone or anything but the cloths on your back and required paperwork. My two other experiences there were that once you finally get in, they are fairly efficient and rapid with whatever service you need. For us expats there are even IRS and Social Security offices inside the embassy. Passports are by the Department of State.
Required Paperwork Before Appointment
When I made the appointment on the embassy website I also downloaded and printed a 2-page form to fill out along with the 4 pages of detailed instructions (good grief!). I filled in the form with ink and went to a local Atenas photography shop for my passport photos, attaching one of them to the form as instructed. All of the above was before the actual appointment on 28 January and I will continue this saga after my appointment for which I’m hiring my local driver Walter to take me and wait on me while in the embassy, which shouldn’t take more than one hour. Then I will write the next paragraph and post this to the blog.
The Appointment – 28 January 2020
A Comedy of Errors
Walter picked me up at 8:30 AM this morning, saying that we would be early for my 10 AM appointment because it never takes him a full hour to get to San Jose (but I insisted on 8:30). Well, we zoomed up Ruta 27, our semi freeway to San Jose until about 5-7 km outside the city and we screeched to a halt or slow crawl of bumper to bumper traffic, assuming a wreck ahead and sure enough, about 45 minutes later there was a wreck on the opposite side of the freeway! Good grief! It was “rubber necking” or people slowing down to stare at the huge multi-car pile-up on the other side going in opposite direction! Whew! Then we sailed right into town pulling up in front of the embassy at exactly 10 AM, my appointment time! 🙂
But did I go straight in? No! The armed female guard with bullet-proof vest at door asked if I had a cell phone or any other electronic device? I said, “A cell phone which I expect to put in the locker inside.” (like I did last time there) She then tells me that they no longer have lockers, it was too much trouble and they have too many people entering. Walter was already gone and is not allowed to park near the U.S. Embassy, thus he goes somewhere else until I get out and call him for a pickup.
So I helplessly look at her and ask “There is no one here to give my phone to, so that means I cannot go in and renew my passport?” THEN she tells me that the Catholic church a half block down the street has lockers I can rent. So I hike down the street and after asking someone, find the little church building and go in among statues of Mary, pay my 1 mil colones and get locker #13 key (lucky 13!). I put in my phone and at her suggestion my coins and belt with big metal buckle, but keep my wallet because you have to pay for a passport! 🙂 By then this frustrated foreigner was feeling his two cups of coffee from breakfast and had to pay 600 colones to use the baño! (But my coins are in the locker!) Ohhhhhhh! I hate the American Embassy!
I rush back to the embassy, late for my appointment, feeling like I was entering the embassy in Afghanistan or Iraq with armed guards and bullet-proof vests, and finally, after a severe security check, I get inside and make it to the correct window for passport renewal (not labeled, just window 15), passing crowds of other people there for visas, and who knows what else? But I had an appointment! 🙂
Wow! No one else at the passport window! (In fact the worker there looked bored!) I give him all my paperwork and passport photos (left) which he stared at for a few moments and then said “These will not do. The photographer zoomed in too close to your face.” and he showed me how it was suppose to look. Then he said, “No problem! You can go back out into the lobby to the photo booth and get your photo made properly.” (Grrrrrrrrrr.)
So back out among the throngs of people in the huge open-air lobby with others, mostly Ticos getting U.S. Visas, also waiting to have their photos made. I finally get it and pay the dos mil (about $4 compared to $2 for the Atenas “zoomed in” version).
I take them back to the guy behind the passport window and he asks me, “Now aren’t these much better?” I wanted to say “No” but rather used the local non-committal “Mas o menas.” (more or less) and then asked “Cuanto cuesta?” And he says $110 and I give him my MasterCard and it is basically done. . .
. . . until he gives me a little slip of paper written totally in español explaining how it will be mailed to my Atenas Correos (Post Office), but only after I go first to that post office and prepay them the equivalent of $7 for their postal services and email to the indicated U.S. Embassy email address a photo copy of the receipt I will receive, saved as a PDF file only. Then he explains in English that it takes them 2 weeks to get the new passport made and the post office 2 days to get it to Atenas. Then I can go pick up my new passport and the Post Office MIGHT even call or send an email when they have it. The embassy will not send it to my PO Box. I guess afraid of theft.
Oh Lord-y was I glad to get out of that place! I go directly across the street to a tiny coffee shop (Coco Cafe) and get a cup of coffee and 4 miniature cinnamon rolls, los rollitos de canela. I call Walter and by the time I’m finished, he is there for me. All total an hour at the armed fortress and about 2.5 hours on the road! But almost done! And Walter dropped me off downtown where I took care of the post office payment today AND I have already emailed the PDF photo copy of post office receipt to the embassy. Waiting is all that’s left to do.
One less thing to think about for the next 10 years! 🙂 So in 2030 I will do it again as a 90-year old (wiser & more experienced) for the passport that will get me to age 100! 🙂 Then I may need someone to go with me in 2040, but the embassy only allows one extra person who is not the applicant! 🙂 And who says retirement is boring?
Retired in Costa Rica