The world is mine!

Yes, the world is mine. It says so on the front of the US Department of State’s pamphlet on passports:

With your US passport, the world is yours!

And, the world can be yours, too. All you need is a passport.

For US citizens living abroad, a passport is more than a ticket to exotic locations; it is a vital document that expats need for many everyday transactions. Most importantly, our passports hold our visas. With those visas, we registered at the FRRO. We also used our passports to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, set up phone and Internet service, file Indian tax returns, stay at hotels (even in India), and, most recently, apply for inner line permits in Himachal Pradesh. Needless to say, keeping a current passport is critical to expat life here.

Our passports were due to be renewed soon, so we had to decide when and how to do this. Should we do it before, during, or after our upcoming visit to the US? Would it be better to do it here in Mumbai or in the US? We considered a number of factors before deciding to renew our passports in Mumbai:

  • Validity length
  • Time constraints
  • Cost

Most countries have a rule that your passport must be valid for at least six months when you enter. With our passports expiring around year-end, we did not want to chance a denial of return to the US or India.

Our trip to the US is scheduled for less than 20 days. Even the expedited service offered in the US takes between two and three weeks. We would run the risk of not having our passports in time for our return to India. With at least a month before we travel to the US, we had plenty of time to go through the process here.

Expediting in the US costs $60 per passport, bringing the total (including the standard $110 fee) to $170 per person, for a grand total of $340. For US citizens who live in Mumbai, the cost is the standard $110, and the passport is expedited at no additional cost, for a total of $220. A total savings of $120.

So, we decided to renew our passports now in Mumbai to avoid any confusion about validity and save a few bucks. So, how was the process? Well, Consular Team India was recently named one of the 25 most innovative programs in American government by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for a reason: it’s efficient. On average, the US Consulate General Mumbai processes about 3,000 US passports annually. Officially, the typical turnaround time is two to three weeks, like in the US. However, Brian received notification that his passport was ready in 7 calendar days, and I received my notification in 10 days. All US passports are printed in the US. That means that our passport information went from Mumbai to the US and back in under two weeks.

The process was very simple. The official process is outlined on the consulate website. What follows is my experience with the process for renewals:

  1. Complete, print, and sign the online form.—The form is the same as in the US. You just don’t mail the form in.
  2. Make an appointment online to go to the consulate.—An online calendar helps you find the best time for you. Appointments are not available on the last Wednesday of the month or on holidays. The US Consulate General Mumbai observes many Indian and US holidays, so be aware of that schedule before you go.
  3. Take passport photos.—You can have the photos done professionally, but you may also use your digital camera to create the photos. Any digital photos must meet the Department of State’s requirements.
  4. Have breakfast at the Trident.—OK, so, technically, this is not a requirement, but if you have an early morning appointment, I highly recommend the buffet at 022. The hotel is around the corner from the consulate.
  5. Go to the consulate.—It seems obvious to say this for the passport renewal process, but don’t forget your passport. 🙂 American citizens entering the US consulate must show their US passports.
  6. Go to the American Citizen Services office.—The guards at the entrance will escort you to the correct building.
  7. Go to window 1.—You will receive a number. When it is your turn, that number will flash above the correct window and appear on a TV monitor.
  8. Go to window 6 to pay.—The US consulate takes dollars (of course), credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover), demand draft, and rupees. Be sure to check the latest update to the consulate fee page for the current exchange rate for rupees required. Exact change is appreciated.
  9. Go to (in our case) window 2 to have your interview.—The consular officer will check all your paperwork is in order, cancel your passport, and take your paperwork for processing. The total time at the consulate was about 40 minutes. The passport cancellation made me a little nervous. It meant that I could not leave India until I received my new passport. But, we did not have any immediate travels plans. Please keep travel within India in mind when factoring in whether you can live without your passport for two weeks. Brian had a trip scheduled, but has a PAN card, so he could fly using that identification.
  10. Receive an email notification that your passports are ready.—The American Citizen Services office will send an email that your passport is ready for pickup. You can pick up your passport on Thursdays from 2 to 3 pm. If you don’t want to wait for your passport, you may also use the courier service. The service is secure and costs about Rs. 300. That process is also outlined on the website. Most Americans choose this option. We did not. Sending my passport through the mail makes me nervous. Besides, if there were errors, they could be addressed immediately upon pickup.
  11. Pick up your passport.—This process took less than 10 minutes including security. Be sure to hold on to your cancelled passport with your current Indian visa in it. You will need it.
  12. Sign your passport in INK and write your Indian and US addresses in PENCIL.

Total time spent at the consulate was under an hour, including pickup. Travel time added an additional 2 hours each trip, for a grand total of 5 hours. If you have more time, you can do all this by mailing everything to the consulate.

Now that we have renewed our passports, the world is ours again. Look out Stateside peeps! We are headed your way!

And in honor of that lovely piece of parchment signed in my hometown:

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

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