We knew for quite some time that our daughter, Anna’s, passport and visa were going to expire soon. We planned to go and take care of it as soon as our son Micah was born. After all, he would need a passport and visa as well. We might as well take care of it at the same time. Plus, Jacquelyn was really in no shape to travel being as far a long as she was.
We Pause now for a Context Explanation: In order to get a new passport for a 5 year old, both parents must go to the Embassy or one of the Consulates and show a photo for every 6 months of life of the child proving that the 5-day old picture of your child on the old passport is the same child 5 years later. Also, before we could get a passport for Micah, we had to get a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) – which is like the equivalent to an American birth certificate for us Expats. Again both parents must go and show their marriage certificate and passports along with the new baby’s Chinese birth certificate (which is a rather interesting process in and of itself…I’ll share that another time, I guess.) In both situations, it takes about 10 working days to process the paperwork, make the new passports in the US, FedEx them to China, and, if you do it in Beijing, they’ll mail it to you!
So Micah comes and we’re extremely happy just enjoying our new treasure. Micah was born on a Thursday and the following week was spring break…great timing for a birth, actually. I still had several paternity days, which we were planning to use to go take care of the passports.
During this pre-paternity-days spring break I went online and scheduled the earliest appointment available at the Beijing Embassy. The appointment is 1 week before the Anna’s passport and visa expire. I’m not too worried about it, though. Surely, as long as the passport is being processed, the visa can go over a couple of days. After all, the Embassy could provide proof that the passport was being processed. So, on the first day back to school I check with our visa liaison to make sure this was okay. It turns out that my assumptions were wrong. The visa-processing-people would not be able to accept that the passport was being processed as, “there was no policy for this situation”. If Anna overstayed her visa, we would be fined 500 RMB (75 USD) for each day overstayed…plus she would have a “bad record”. I’m not sure what a bad record means, but I do know overstaying your visa accidentally or otherwise is not something you want to do. You can end up in jail in addition to the fines and bad record.
This was not the news that we wanted to hear. So I get on the phone with Jacquelyn and talk about our different options. We could try to go to Beijing and just do a walk-in appointment, but there was no guarantee that we’d be able to see anyone.
Context Explanation: The lines outside of the Embassy are tremendously long. Of the 1.3 billion people in China, about half are trying to get a visa to the US…okay, not half…but the line seriously snakes around the block for along way. Being American citizens, we most definitely probably wouldn’t have to wait in that line…but still, the thought of being in any line that resembles that one scares me. I actually have a recurring nightmare about such a line.
Another option was getting to Hong Kong. Although the Consulate down there didn’t have any appointments available either, we don’t need a visa to be in Hong Kong for like 30 days. But that would have been ridiculously expensive. Finally, we came up with the idea of going to Shanghai. Shanghai’s Consulate had appointments right way. Jacquelyn finds tickets online for that very evening and books them! We’ve got plenty of time. I can go home from work at 4:30, eat a nice dinner, pack up clothes and head out the door for a stress free trip to Shanghai.
As a review, here is the timeline up to this point:
-Monday 7am – find out we need to get the passport sooner than expected
-Monday 8am – talk to the embassy on the phone and try to figure it out
-Monday 9am – panic
-Monday 1pm – purchase tickets to Shanghai
I get home as planned and have a nice dinner. Just after finishing, I go to the computer and check online to make sure that we have all the documents needed as requested by the Consulate. Marriage Certificate – check; Anna’s age progression photos – check; current passports for the whole family – check; Anna’s CRBA – not with the other stuff. Hmm, okay, the search begins…
Remember, the CRBA is the equivalent to an American Birth Certificate. We cannot update Anna’s passport without it. We tear the house apart looking for it. We can’t find it. I have this faint idea that it is in a green folder. I had to use it to apply for Anna’s SSN like a year ago. Oh, no. Does that mean that I left it at my office? So, I pack several days worth of clothes, not sure if I’ll be matching in Shanghai or not and head out the door to my office. Jacquelyn continues looking for it at the house just in case it’s not at my office.
The taxi driver is not the best driver. He’s one of those drivers that can’t seem to figure out how to slowly press the gas, gain speed at a steady rate, and then in the smooth and calculated way press the brake when needed. If you’ve ever ridden with someone who rides the brake, you know what I’m talking about. We’re a block a way from the house and I’m already car sick and contemplating if it would be too rude to ask to get down sooner than what I already told him in order to change taxis. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for such luxuries. But one things was for sure, I was not going to ask him to wait for me at my office to take me home. I’d try my luck at finding a different taxi – even though taxis aren’t as frequent out at the office.
I finally make it to the school and look everywhere for this thing that I think should be in a green folder. It’s not there. I run up to my storage room in case it inadvertently got moved up there. The lights don’t work in the room, so I’m using my cell phone as a flashlight. It’s not there. It’s got to be at the house. This is not good. I’m 25 minutes from home not helping in the search and just wasted about an hour going to the office. We need to be leaving for the airport in about 45 minutes. There’s no point in going to Shanghai if we can’t find this cursed CRBA. Can we get money back for the tickets that we purchased?
In the taxi ride home Jacquelyn and I go over the places that she’s looked and she starts re-looking in those places. We say a panicked prayer to God asking for help. She opens a backpack – somewhere that she’s already looked – and locates a green folder. Inside is the CRBA! Tears of frustration are replaced by tears of joy.