A passport. It’s something that seems so trivial when you stop and think about it, but that small document makes all the difference to a traveller. And I first got mine when I turned 18 back in 2004, meaning it’s about to expire very soon.
The timing works out fairly well for me, as my time in Bangkok is running out. Most of my pages have been filled with visas of all the varying countries I have been to in the last 2 years. Thankfully, while I am settled in Bangkok, there is an American Embassy conveniently close for me to renew.
While there are some services you can simply show up at the embassy for, applying for a passport is one you must register for ahead of time. This is easily done on the embassy’s website, in which you can choose a day anytime in the future, see the number of available appointments, and then schedule one for yourself at the time of your choice.
The other step before applying is the application. Unfortunately, as I would be told later, the application provided for passport renewal on the website was not the one I needed. However, the correct form was provided at the embassy.
The only other item necessary beforehand is a 51mm X 51mm (2 inch X 2 inch) photograph with your head against a white background. Thankfully those are much cheaper to get from a photo shop in Thailand ($5 for 6) than they are from a Walgreen’s (about $30 for 6).
Plus it’s always helpful to have extra passport-sized photos for visa applications at the borders.
The Embassy – Time 1
The American Embassy is far from a laid back place, and even American citizens are subjected to what sometimes seems an uncomfortable level of scrutiny. Before even entering the main door, I had to present my passport to an outdoor window, and essentially present my case as to why I should be allowed entry.
Once inside the magnetically sealed door, I had to present my backpack to not only be held onto while I entered, but also thoroughly searched before I handed it over. I was allowed no electronics, including iPhone, iPod, or even a basic mobile phone. I then had to give them a photo ID other than my passport to reference my checked items. So, I ultimately entered with my wallet, my documents for the meeting, and a pen and notebook I had brought for the wait I expected.
It was at this point I was glad I had already completed the application as all the contact information for people back home (a section on the application) was on my iPhone and computer, which were temporarily confiscated.
In the blue velcroed folder I had come with, I was at least confident I had come with any document they could ask me for. Unfortunately this also wasn’t true. As stated before, the application the website had linked me to print out was incorrect, but the previously filled out application at least provided all the information I needed for the new, much simpler application.
With the new application completely filled out, I returned to the counter and was asked for a fee of 3300 THB (US$ 105). This is the fee for a new 52-page passport; something I felt would certainly be necessary in my forthcoming travels.
After paying, I was given a receipt and told to wait. About a dozen people dotted the waiting room. Mostly Americans, many of them with Thai women. A few with children. All were there for their own slightly varying reasons, and it was interesting to listen to their dilemmas over the falsified laughter of the Colbert Report playing on the TV.
After 5 or so minutes, I was called back to the counter and asked for an email address. They would contact me in 2 weeks or so, I was told, and then I could come and pick up my new passport. I was then handed back my current passport and was free to leave. Collecting my things relatively easily and I was out the other unnecessarily sealed door.
The Embassy – Time 2
I received the email 12 days later that my new passport was ready to pick up. It read:
Hello! This e-mail is sent to notify you that your new passport (and/or passport card) is ready.
If you arranged with us to mail your passport to you, then we will send it the next business day and you should receive it within a week.
If you are returning to the Embassy to pick up your new passport, please bring this notification, the passport fee receipt, and your current passport to the American Citizen Services unit on any working day between 7:30 am and 11:00 am or between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm. You do not need to make an appointment to pick up your new document. You will need to check in at the Embassy compound’ s guard booth before entering the compound.
Other services must make an appointment via http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/acsappointment.html .
We are open Monday through Friday except for U.S. and Thai holidays and the last Friday of every month.
We will keep your passport book and/or passport card no more than 90 days from this notification date. If you do not pick up your document within that time, we must return it to the United States for destruction. You will have to repeat the entire passport application process including payment of relevant fees.
This is an automatically generated e-mail. Please do not reply.
This time, I made sure to have a simple setup with me. I checked it all at the door and was in quickly.
The 3 things the email had asked me to bring; my old passport, the printed email, and the receipt from the last appointment were mostly unnecessary. I was never asked for either the email or the receipt. I only had to hand over my passport and sit through 10 minutes of Fox news (which after a week of hearing about their horrible handling of the Reza Aslan interview, I was thoroughly sick of).
When called back up to the counter, I was handed my old passport with hole punches in it, rendering it invalid, my new 52-page passport, and a letter from the U.S. Embassy explaining to Thai immigration the situation in order to help me transfer my current visa. After that, I was out the door.
An Afterword . . .
Outside the U.S. Embassy, from the public median of Bangkok, I tried to take a picture for a title pic for this post. As soon as my camera was drawn, one of the guards from inside the sealed doors rushed out, defied traffic and scolded me for even attempting to take a picture of my own country’s embassy.
I question the legality of this on many levels. I am a citizen of the country this embassy represents. It is a building in a public space. And, when I attempted to take a picture, I was not on the property of this embassy, AKA the United States, but on the city property of Bangkok in the complete and separate sovreignty of Thailand.
Even Google Streetview was allowed a view of this building and other courts around the world have ruled this type of enforcement is illegal.