Rain is wet. Fire is hot. Passports expire.
I had to renew my American passport this year, and since I live in Germany, I had the option of traveling to one of the three locations in Germany: the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, the Consulate General in Munich, or the Consular Agency in Bremen.
[Note: US citizens over 16 years old with an undamaged passport that was issued within the last 15 years are able to renew their US passports via mail. However, you have to pay the fee via check in USD or the credit card payment authorization form. Since I didn’t have a checkbook and didn’t want to fill out this form, I chose to do this process in person.]
I live near Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. However, there are no U.S. citizen services offered in Hamburg, so I set an entire day aside to take the trip to Bremen, which is 2 hours away by train.
Before I ramble on about my trip to the U.S. Consulate in Bremen, however, let’s start with facts of how to renew an American passport in Germany.
WHAT YOU NEED:
• Renewal form (DS-81 or DS-11)
• Passport photo (5 cm x 5 cm)
• Application fee payment
• Return envelope for within Germany
• [If you need to change your name due to marriage] International marriage certificate
Now that the formalities are over with, here is my experience with renewing my passport at the U.S. consulate in Germany.
HOW I DID IT:
To give you a proper idea of what a trek it was for me to renew my U.S. passport in Germany, I let’s move through my day by time (and please excuse my potato-quality pictures – I don’t have a very nice phone).
To get to Bremen for free with my student ID (all regional transportation in Lower Saxony is free with my German student ID), I would have to take two trains. To make my first train at 8:32, I got on a bus from my apartment at 8:06.
I arrived at the train station around 8:20 and walked to the platform. Less than five minutes later, I hear an announcement over the speakers:
“The train you are waiting for is delayed 22 minutes, and since your layover was only 12 minutes, this means you are also going to miss your connecting train to Bremen. Your day is doomed.”
Okay, maybe the announcement wasn’t that dramatic, but it was not a good start to my day. The train to Bremen ran every hour, but it was January, and I wasn’t very keen on waiting outside at a crappy train station for an 52 minutes. After a frantic search on my phone, I found a train that would decrease my layover to 30 minutes.
The train that was supposed to arrive at 8:32 arrives at 8:54, and I am annoyed.
I make it to my half-way destination and have to wait for a half hour for my train to Bremen. Still annoyed.
I get to Bremen 35 minutes later than originally planned, but it’s okay. The consulate was open that day until 1:00 p.m. So, everything would be okay. Next step of the plan was to get on a tram that would take me to the Bremen airport (the U.S. consulate is across the street from the airport).
It takes another 20 minutes to actually get to the consulate from the train station. I was super nervous and also too scared to take a selfie before going in (especially since there was a camera on the doorbell).
Note that it is just a consular agency in Bremen, which means they just offer very limited services for U.S. citizens – basically just passport applications and renewals. When I walked into the office, which is on the fourth floor of the building, there were two armed German police officers waiting to greet me. They asked me why I was there, and I immediately felt like I was doing something illegal and totally stuttered, “I would like to renew my passport…” They then searched my bag (remarking that I had a lot of food with me, hahah), and told me to take a seat.
The U.S. Consular Agency in Bremen is literally just a waiting room with 20 chairs and a single woman sitting behind a bullet-proof glass window. The only other person there was sitting in front of the woman behind the window when I walked in, so I took my seat and waited for my turn.
When it’s my turn, I tell the woman what I need and hand her all of my documents. I hadn’t printed/filled out the renewal form ahead of time, so she printed one for me (which I found incredibly considerate after my horrible experiences with German bureaucracy lately). Since some other people were waiting, I filled out the form back in the waiting area while some other people took their turn at the window.
I finally leave the consulate around 12:30. My meeting was overall pretty successful, except that I made the dumb mistake of bringing what the Germans call a “biometric photo.” This is smaller than the passport photos used in American passports, so she couldn’t accept it. Luckily, she still took my other documents and agreed to hold on to them until I could mail in a new picture. Here’s me looking pleased with the whole experience after leaving:
I make it back to Bremen’s city center and walk around for a bit while I wait for the next train back to Hamburg. If you live somewhere between Bremen and one of the consulates (i.e. Frankfurt or Berlin), then I highly suggest choosing the Bremen consulate for renewing your license. You don’t have to make an appointment, it is a (if you ignore the armed German police officers) relaxed environment, and the woman that works there is very sweet.
Bremen is also a beautiful city.
I’m back on the train with another two-hour trip in front of me. You can tell from the state of my hair that it had been a very long day.
Since my new passport will arrive by mail, the woman at the consulate also invalidated my old passport by punching a bunch of holes in it.
This was actually the first passport I ever had. It accompanied on my first trip outside of the U.S., my semester abroad, and my move to Germany. But with four two-page visas and dozens of stamps, it was getting quite full.
Now I just have to sit back, relax, and wait for my new passport to come in the mail. I was told it would take about three weeks.
Have you kept your expired passports?