Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pasaportes

After being emboldened by my luck procuring a visa for my wife and daughter, I decided to apply for a U.S. passport for my daughter too. Why not? She's eligible. And in this world, two passports are better than one.

The passport application process is quite different than that for visas. There are forms to be filled out, but you also have to submit special documents like a birth certificate on "papel sellado" (sealed paper) from the registro in San Jose (which, happily, we were able to obtain on our visa trip) and, in my case, submit certified divorce papers. Luckily, I had these leftover from my residencia process and they were certified by the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago AND the Costa Rican Consul in Chicago - bulletproof.

If your child was born in a private hospital, you have to have a letter from the doctor who delivered her, along with details of the birth. In Laila's case, she was born in one of the Social Security hospitals in Costa Rica, so a letter from the director of the hospital was sufficient. But it's still a trip to the hospital and a dice-roll on getting an appointment.

On top of this, you have to fill out a form documenting all of the places you've lived your entire life (many, for me) and a special form for a child born outside of the U.S.

But the most difficult requirement that must be met is substantiating that the parent holding U.S. citizenship (me) lived in the U.S. for a minimum of 5 years before the child's birth. The U.S. embassy's website gives some suggestions for this: college transcripts, military service records, old passports. Well, I've never served in the military and God knows where my old passports are in the Public Storage room I have in Chicago.

So I got my college transcripts from Notre Dame and hunted down all of the rest of the documentation, then DHL'ed it all to the embassy. You don't have to show up in person to submit the documentation, which is a big timesaver. Upon receipt of the documentation, the embassy reviews it all and then calls you to set up an appointment.

I got a call only a week later from a very nice woman at the embassy. She said that I needed more documentation on Laila's birth (pre-natal exam records, ultrasounds) and more documentation to prove that I lived in the U.S. a miniumum of 5 years before Laila's birth. We had all of Laila's pre-natal documentation, so I crossed that off the list. But I spent the next four weeks getting letters from employers, my high school transcripts, and my social security statements. I then set up an appointment via email, which was for for 1PM on Tuesday of this week.

We arrived at 12:30PM after a grueling drive through the mountains with heavy truck traffic. On the upside, the weather was nice, a bit windy. We entered the embassy and went through the security check. They had to open the envelope with my high school transcripts in it. I told them it wasn't official if it was opened and the guard told me not to worry, they do it all the time. We then had photos taken of Laila and proceeded to the interview area.

In contrast to the day we had our visa interview, the place was empty. There were no more than 20 people present and no one seated the outdoor holding room, about the size of a small church. I found out later that the embassy rotates days on visas and passport applicants. There are less people on passport days. After about 30 minutes, we were called by name to the interview window. The young gentlemen asked us what we had for him.

I handed him Laila's prenatal docs and vaccination book, and my high school transcripts and the other additional documentation. He examined Laila's documents and the transcripts only, and gave the rest back to me. He then made us swear an oath with right hands raised and proceeded to ask us some basic questions. When he paper-clipped Laila's photo to one of the forms, I knew we had the green light.

Her new U.S. passport should arrive via DHL in a couple of weeks. My daughter, Laila, is now, officially, a Tica-Gringa!!

¡Pura vida!

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