There is a process for renewing your passport if you are outside the US. Here in Panama you can either go to the US embassy in Panama City or DHL your documents there. Since we are on the other side of the country we chose the latter.
As with most things here, it’s a process with steps, some forward, some backward, but it all gets done eventually.
First there is a form to fill out on the embassy website which you then print, attach your picture, sign, and date. Of course to print something you need a printer with ink. One day we were at Pricesmart and voila! The printer cartridges we needed. Sometimes this simple quest involves multiple stores so finding them quickly and unexpectedly was a good start.
Next, pictures. We went to Arrocha, got the pictures taken, went downstairs to the cashier to pay for them, and back up to pick them up. This is typical in Panama. All the money is handled in one spot so you pay there and then go back to pick up your item (which is often unboxed, inspected, and tested before it’s handed to you. No returns wanted.)
We go home to attach the 2”x2” pictures to find they are 1/2 inch too narrow. *sigh*. I don’t want to risk our applications being rejected so we go back the next day for more pictures, carefully explaining the requirements and leave with the right size pictures. Thank goodness I carefully reread the requirements because Joel needed to remove his glasses, which he hadn’t done in the first picture because his current passport has a photo of him with glasses.
Ok, pictures done, stapled to the form as instructed. Next step, cashiers checks for $110. The website says you need a “cheque certificado”. Our bank (Scotiabank) offers “cheque de gerencia”. Is this the same? Who knows and I didn’t want to risk sending the wrong thing. It’s about 12:15 Friday when I call the embassy to learn they close at noon on Fridays *sigh*.
Monday I call the embassy again to learn they only talk to people Mon-Thurs, 3-4:30, and Fridays 10:30-12. I call after 3, use the menu to get to citizen services, use that menu to get to what I think is the right thing but it takes me back to the menu and ends the call after going through it again. There are detailed instructions for various things throughout the call, recommendations to go to the website for info, etc so this whole process took about 10 minutes. I try again ignoring the second menu and at the end is a ringing phone! The guy who answered connected me with passport services, and that lady told me the cheque de gerencia is the same thing and will do just fine.
This morning we went back to the bank, waited in line, made it to the teller who spoke English. When you are trying to do something you don’t do every day and don’t have all the necessary vocabulary, this is so nice. I have much empathy for people in the US struggling to learn English, and know the pleasure you feel when someone speaks your language. I will never ever resent “push 2 for Spanish”.
Anyway, I digress. I had already found the necessary forms and filled them out, and approached the teller with forms and cash in hand. Cash will not do. I had to deposit the cash in my account and then he wrote the checks on the account. He said you can’t get these checks without having an account. I wonder what people do who don’t have a Panamanian bank account.
Anyway, there was a fair amount of standing around, him typing and checking things on his screen, and finally unlocking a drawer that had the locked box that contained the blank checks ready for the printer. He printed the checks, had me look at them to be sure all was correct, and then sent me to sit and wait until a supervisor was available to sign them. Then I was called back to the teller where I had to sign, date and put my cédula number (Panamanian ID) on copies of the checks. Then finally I was given the checks and all was finished.
All right! Making progress! Now it’s time to find DHL. Thank goodness for google maps which navigated us through downtown traffic and to the office. The gal there had obviously done this many times and was super professional. Ahh, embassy, and they need to be sent back, right? Ok, $24.40, $12.20 to send, $12.20 to return. She must have had the address on file all ready to print, and processed all the forms and labels and packaging like she had done it a hundred times. We left with instructions and tracking numbers in hand.
Yay! Done! We came home, I visit my neighbor… tell her we did the passport thing, the forms, the pictures, the checks, sent them.., OMG OMG we didn’t SIGN the forms!!! We need to go back RIGHT NOW! What was I thinking, or not thinking. I called DHL, no problems, nothing had been sent, she will wait for us. We go back, she open the package, we get our documents out, SIGN them, and NOW it is done! Whew
If all goes according to plan we should have our new passports in 2-3 weeks. This should be plenty of time for my planned late March trip to the US. I’ll be glad when they get here though. You have to send your old passport in with your application and it feels strange not to have a passport.
Meanwhile the printer has ink so I can make business cards for the band and for myself. Yay 😁 I have also been busy setting up a band mailing list and presence on twitter and Instagram. No more “I didn’t know you were playing”!
No excuses now. Come out and we will wake up that monkey nerve that makes you get up and dance!