English German

  Edition # 150  
San Francisco, 10-19-2023


Figure [1]: New and old passport

Michael Germans like us who have lived abroad for a long time no longer have a German residence. For this reason, the extension of our passports is not the responsibility of any local government office in Germany, but rather handled by the consulate in San Francisco. However, this particular consulate does not only serve the residents of San Francisco, but also the entire upper west coast of the USA, including Hawaii and Alaska!

Now as you can imagine, they are pretty busy. And one cannot simply waltz in there, show the old passport, hit the table and have it renewed, instead one must first arrange an appointment, of which the consulate grants only thirteen per working day. Besides Friday naturally, because there is no customer traffic at the consulate on Fridays.

Figure [2]: The German Consulate in San Francisco is going to renew my passport.

Unsurprisingly, new appointments are gone in a flash. The consulate makes new dates available at midnight German local time (!) for the same day in exactly three weeks' time. At this point in time, i.e., at 3pm local San Francisco time (on the previous day), as one might imagine, hundreds of emigrants are swarming the consulate server, in order to attempt to grab one of the highly coveted thirteen new appointments. Unsurprisingly, the consulate server cannot withstand the onslaught, and crashes regularly at this time (Illustration #1).

Figure [3]: The consulate's appointment server crashes under the user load.

Those who don't give up immediately, can witness a few minutes later that all appointments for the day are booked (Illustration 2) and the citizen must try again at midnight German time on the next day. Hopefully, nobody is in a rush to get their passport renewed. But according to consular information, one can apply for an emergency appointment by email, and if the urgency of the appointment is successfully justified, one will reportedly be squeezed in somehow.

Figure [4]: Unfortunately, all appointments for today are already booked.

Figure [5]: "He who doesn't get an appointment is asked for patience."

Those select individuals who manage to fill in the online form with luck and quick fingers, including the bot-proof Captcha that only eagle-eyed people can read, faster than the rest of the hungry mob, get an appointment assigned. On this date, which is exactly three weeks later, they may then come to the embassy at the appointed time with their to-be-renewed travel document plus a set of other documents, including a birth and marriage certificate, along with photocopies. Actually, the old passport can't be renewed, instead one must apply for a new one every time. Also, the consulate is not allowed to store any of the data, so one must bring all the supporting documents in their original form with copies every time.

Figure [6]: Exact specifications for passport photos

Regarding passport photos, they must measure exactly 35mm x 45mm according to the specifications in illustration 6. In addition, the depicted head must be facing the camera straigt on and meet a series of proportional requirements. If you have a camera and a color printer at home, you can make your own photos. My (admittedly perfect, but then again I'm a pro) home-made photos were accepted without any issues.

People with less confidence can have their photos taken at a variety of specialty stores in San Francisco, but also at Walgreens. There's no photo studio there, but instead, one stands in front of a white wall in the store, the clerk retrieves a cheap digital camera from a drawer, takes a photo, and then inserts the SD card into a color printer. Walgreens even has a setting for "German Passport" on the computer, and the image then meets the required specifications. For this service, one typically pays around $18.

Figure [7]: The photo department at Walgreens also takes passport photos for German travel documents.

Generally, the citizen hands over their old passport at the appointment at the consulate. But then of course the old document can't be used until the issuance of the new passport. However, if a passport that is not yet completely expired is still urgently needed for travel, the citizen may hold onto it after submitting the application at the consulate. But since a German citizen can only possess one passport document at any time, they must either send the old passport by mail or personally deliver it for deactivation as soon as the new passport arrives at the consulate. If they leave the old passport at the consulate when applying for the new one, on the other hand, the staff will deactivate it there upon arrival of the new one. Only then can the new passport be collected, either by Fedex (at a cost of $23.60 for postage) or in person at the consulate with an appointment.

By the way, I wanted to dispel a rumor that is stubbornly circulating on the Internet: A German passport does not necessarily have to be "valid for at least X months" in order to enter Germany with it. It actually remains valid until the very last date of validity, indicated on the document.

Figure [8]: With express shipping and FedEx delivery, the new pass costs €136.

According to rumors, I have also heard from some expatriate Germans on Facebook that it is indeed possible to extend a passport at a residents' registration office in any city during a visit in Germany, provided that one is stubborn enough. From what I've heard, the offices in larger cities often put up resistance, but smaller towns allegedly make an exception for an extra fee. However, one must then stay in Germany until the new passport is ready, which can take several months.

Figure [9]: The amount will be charged in dollars to your credit card.

On average, it takes the consulate 6-8 weeks to issue a new passport. However, by paying an express fee of €32, you can speed up the process. I had booked the "Fully Loaded, All Inclusive" luxury package (my words), which includes all extras such as express processing and subsequent FedEx delivery. And lo and behold, the FedEx envelope with my new passport arrived exactly 14 days after my consulate appointment at our home address. Although it was marked for personal delivery only upon signature, I found it lying in the lobby of our building in the evening.

The old passport that I had submitted with the application at the consulate was also included in the envelope, although the machine-readable section had been cut off to cancel it (See the Schrempf story in Rundbrief 11/2022).

As you can see in the breakdown in Figure 8, the processing, including the foreign surcharge costs 81 Euros, the express fee is an additional 32 Euros and the Fedex delivery costs 23.60 Euros. The consulate accepts credit cards (Visa/Mastercard), which will be charged in Euros from a location pretending to be located in Germany, so the credit card company shouldn't be too paranoid about it. Supposedly you can also pay in cash in local currency (US dollars in our case), although the consulate's website claims otherwise. The Euros charged to my credit card were naturally converted back to dollars by the credit card company, and a total of $149 was deducted (see Figure 9).

Here's another bit of interesting consulate lore: The foreign representations of the Federal Republic of Germany are divided into consulates and embassies. There is always only one embassy per country, and in the United States it is located at the capital, Washington, DC. However, the Germany also maintains a total of eight general consulates here in the U.S., where you can also get a new passport among other things. The head of the consulate in San Francisco, the consul, is incidentally an employee of Germany's foreign service and reports to the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock. In more remote areas such as Hawaii, German citizens can also seek help from a locally resident honorary consul, who receives German citizens at home in his living room and arranges the processing of applications with the nearest consulate. Could this be the next step in my career?

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Latest update: 28-Nov-2023