Tuesday, May 13, 2014

on getting a passport.

I know that sometimes people stumble across this blog looking for practical information about living in the Dominican Republic. I'm not really that practical. However, today I discovered the secret American Citizen Services on the island.

Why did someone not tell me about this gloriousness before?

I don't have a ton of reasons to go to the ACS department of the consulate/embassy, but it has never been particularly easy when the need has presented itself. There is an office in Santo Domingo - in one of the busiest consulates in Latin America. It is, by nature, crazy. It's hard to get an appointment (it's easier now than it was years ago, but still), the appointments are at 6am - but you are often not seen until 10am. There is a filing process that seems to change every 10 minutes and a security policy that means leaving a cell phone at home - which is fun when you're travelling with a baby, far from home.

When we needed to declare Samil as an American citizen, we went all the way to the capital - just to pick up papers - only to find out that the ACS was not working that day, eventhough there was no mention of this on their webpage and their "working calendar" had them accepting papers that day. When we finally did get the appointment, we were thwarted by one of the strongest storms to hit the island in recent history -- and, of course, on that day, the ACS didn't close. The entire island was closed EXCEPT the consulate. It took some strategically placed phone calls to senators and congresspeople in the States to get us a new appointment because not only did they not answer the telephones (emergency telephone numbers at that!) they also did not respond to emails or faxes.

I had to renew my passport once. It consisted of me leaving two small children - one still almost exclusively breastfed - in Santiago overnight, getting to my (super early) appointment only to sit there until lunchtime because everyone present had an 8am appointment. 

photo from enteraterd.com
Amely's declaration was way easier - but by the time she came around, there were no special privileges for American citizens, so we sat on hard plastic chairs in the general, non-air-conditioned room filled with literally hundreds of people waiting for visas. It was loud and uncomfortable.

I can say plenty of positive things about Santo Domingo - the guards are generally really nice and helpful and the consuls are friendly and accomodating. There is even a diaper changing table in the bathroom - almost unheard of in Santiago establishments! Last summer, I needed an emergency passport for Samil because I was not on-top of things. The consul went above and beyond to make sure that I got that passport - even waiting for me to get the correct birth certificate sent down from Santiago (because I forgot it!)

It is that emergency passport that took me back to the ACS offices this morning. An emergency passport is only valid for three months, which means that Samil's passport expired in November. And we're planning to travel in July. After asking around, I contacted the Puerto Plata Consular Agency and got an appointment -- for a week after I called! It was amazing.

Because I had never done an emergency passport before, I had a lot of questions - are the forms the same? (most passport forms are done online now. there was a quick questionnaire, and it sent me directly to the correct forms. I printed when I was finished) do we have to pay? (we didn't! Because it was just replacing the short, three-month passport, the actual book was paid for with the fee for the emergency book) does my husband need to come along? (nope. Again, replacement book - we were just technically adding pages). does he need a new picture? (yes) and, how do I get there?

The woman in charge answered all of my emails in a timely fashion. When I called on the phone, she (I imagine the same woman) was so helpful. Our appointment was for 9am, but we were out of there before 9. I even made it back to Santiago in time for my meeting at 11. It was amazing.

So, all of this rambling and story-telling is to give you hope, dear reader. If you need ACS services in the DR, go to Puerto Plata if it is possible. They are lovely, efficient people. You can reach them at PuertoPlataConsularAgency (at) state.gov.do or call them (809) 586-4204.


Massiel said...

Long time lurker here, been living in the DR for 3 years now, working as an RN, just wanted to point out that there's a consular agency in Punta Cana as well, and living in Santo Domingo, it was well worth the 2 hour drive, instead of going through the insane torture people are subjected to at the Santo Domingo consulate.

melanie. said...

Massiel! Thanks for the info. if there wasn't an agency in POP i would DRIVE to punta cana to avoid the consular office in santo domingo. i don't know how they get away with treating american citizens they way they do!!!

Bryan said...

This is great as a lot of people are always wonering these things :) I plan on visiting the DR in my travels. this will be a useful page to go to. thank you!

~Bryan @ SeekLyfe.com