Renewing A US Passport While Living In France (Part I)

Living abroad often require anticipation of “all the moving pieces” necessary to comply with the proper process of maintaining our residency in France. Tracy and I need to annually renew our Carte de Séjour (residency permits) in March, so in January I start collecting all the documents needed so I’ll have everything together for our renewal application in plenty of time.

Among those documents we provide are our valid US passports, however mine expires in February 2018. While that sounds like I have lots of time renew my passport during 2017, in order to renew our upcoming Carte de Séjour for April 2017 to March 2018, my passport needs to be valid at least three months past the expiration date of the 2017-2018 Carte de Séjour. I’m four months short of that requirement.

So in December 2016, I am renewing my passport. Back to that “all the moving pieces” concept, it normally takes four to six weeks to process a passport request . . .  plus there is the added complications of renewing a passport from overseas . . . plus the further complications of consulate and passport offices being closed or short-staffed over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

Nothing is ever as easy as you first think it is.

US Passport
US Passport

So this is my renewal process and how we worked through the complications:

First off, if you live outside the US or Canada, you CANNOT just mail your passport renewal application back to the US.  The application must be submitted through the US Embassy or an US Consulate that provides passport services in the country that you are a resident. With living in France my current options for passport services is the Embassy in Paris or the Consulates in Strasbourg or Marseille. Since Tracy and I live in the south of France, my renewal application package is heading to beautiful Marseille.

Next complication: photo drama. Effective November 1,  2016, passport photos cannot included eyeglasses, so the extra photos I had previously taken cannot be used. Although there are “ID photo” machines on practically every corner (France requires photos with almost every government application), those French photo machine photos are not acceptable for US passports. To help with these problem, the Consulate provides a list of photographers that can take approved passport photos (the nearest to us is in Perpignan) and the US State Department provides a digital photo template tool online.  Tracy, the former graphic artist, took my photo, edited it, and printed an acceptable set of photos. (U.S. standard passport photograph requirements for biometric passports)

US State Department's Online Passport photo template tool
US State Department’s Online Passport photo template tool

The next complication up: payment drama.  It’s an US passport so just send an US check or an US credit card authorization, right? Nope, not accepted. A Mandat Cash (money order) from the Banque Postale (French Post Office) or a chèques certifiés (certified check) from a French bank? Nope, not accepted. The only payment option: “Mail-in consular service customers in Marseille must pay by French bank check (chèque de banque payable en France) made to the order of:  U.S. Embassy.”

A chèque de banque is kind of a big deal. It’s like a “super certified check” drawn directly on and payable by a French bank (not a private account holder) with the payment guaranteed for a year and eight days. Getting the chèque de banque required a visit to my BNP bank branch (our French bank) to make a request using my marginal French (still very much Franglais.)  I was told a chèque de banque request normally takes three days to process. The bank started the process, but I was asked to please return to the bank the next day because the directeur (bank manager) was not there to sign the request. Apparently a chèque de banque request requires the most senior bank officer’s signature. I returned to BNP for a second visit and the chèque de banque request was waiting at reception area for me to add my signature next to the directeur’s. Two days later, the check arrived in the mail.

Chèque de Banque
Chèque de Banque

Since I was not picking up the new passport personally from the consulate in Marseille, I was required to include two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes (similar to FedEx Overnight.) A quick trip to the post office and I had the envelopes, cost was surprisingly steep at a total of €52.

I needed to send two envelopes since I was requesting both a new passport booklet and a passport card. A new passport card takes weeks longer to manufacture than a passport booklet. The consulate offers the option to wait and send both the booklet and card together or to send the items separately as they arrive. I wanted to have a passport back in my hands as soon as possible, so I opted for sending two envelopes.

Chronopost Envelop
Chronopost Envelop

I used the US State Department’s online form wizard to print out a completed adult passport renewal application form (DS-82.) The Marseille Consulate warns that a handwritten form could delay processing the renewal request.

My final application package included:

  1. A completed adult passport renewal form, signed and dated, requesting a passport booklet with the extended 52 pages and a passport card.
  2. My current passport booklet and passport card with photocopies of the biographical page for the passport booklet and biographical data on the passport card.
  3. Two recent photos on a white background meeting US passport standards. (One photo for the passport booklet and one for the passport card.) The Marseille Consulate made a point of saying NOT to staple or paperclip the photo to my application.
  4.  My payment of €134 by chèque de banque, (The cost for the passbook booklet was €105 and the passport card was €29.)
  5.  Two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes for the return of passports.
Passport Renewal Package
Passport Renewal Package

The application package was mailed as a lettre recommandée (registered mail, €5.93) to:

U.S. Consulate General
ACS/Passport Unit
Place Varian Fry
Marseille 13286 Cedex 06

So now I wait for the passport renewal request to be processed knowing the Marseille Consulate will be closed for the Christmas holiday from December 21 through December 28 and there will be New Years and Martin Luther King holidays coming soon too. Not the best time of the year to be requesting a passport renewal.

On top of heavy seasonal mail and work holidays, US State Department’s “Officials are expecting a flood of renewals of 10-year passports issued in 2006 and 2007. The latter was the year when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, for the first time requiring passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.”

I have a somewhat uncomfortable feeling with having NO passport in my possession for a month or more while still living overseas. Granted, I have my French Carte de Séjour as an official identification document, a photocopy of my US passport, and I live within the Schengen Area where I don’t frequently have to show a passport, but I feel rather “naked” without my US Passport. In an emergency I would be hard pressed for international travel.

I’m hoping for a quick turnaround of my new passport. I’ll let you know how long it takes.

Related post:  RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART II)

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART III)

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