I am very excited about my new biometric American passport. And I really hope that I get to see it someday. Because like just about everything else that happened in 2016, it’s gotten . . . complicated.
It all started simply enough. To avoid even the remote possibility of a hiccup in my ability to travel, I applied for renewal six months before my passport’s March 2017 expiration date. I was in Seville at the time, and as I knew there was a family issue that might require a quick trip back to the States, the US consular agent in Seville arranged for me file for renewal without relinquishing my current passport. The new passport would, he said, be waiting for me on my return.
And it would be one of the new, improved biometric passports. Reading up on it afterwards, I learned it would contain a microchip and antenna capable of authenticating identity electronically, including facial, fingerprint, and iris recognition. “Did I get a retinal scan during the application process?” I asked Rich. “I don’t remember any of this high tech stuff!” Possibly it’s just storing my stated height, weight, and hair color for now, but I think we can all see where this is headed.
With my new passport (supposedly) sorted, Rich and I returned to the States for a visit that lasted longer than expected. Then a few weeks ago, a friend casually remarked, “You know, you can’t go to other countries on a passport that’s valid for less than 90 days.” Yikes!
I hurriedly contacted the US State Department and the Spanish government, explaining the situation and mentioning my long-term Spanish residency visa; nobody seemed to think travel would be an issue for me. Whew!
So it wasn’t until we actually booked airline tickets that we hit the brick wall. There was no way, the airline informed us, that I was getting on that international flight without a passport valid for 90 days. Naturally we discovered this when there were 87 days left on my current passport.
Meanwhile, the US consular agency in Seville closed down, and my new passport was forwarded to the US Embassy in Madrid. They explained I was welcome to pick it up in person or they’d mail it to my Spanish address. Could they send the passport to me in California? No.
“What are you supposed to do?” Rich said. “Wait here for ten years until it expires and then apply for another one?”
“I suppose it’s a matter of national security,” I said. “They’re guarding against theft.” But I soon realized it wasn’t about protection, it was about postage. As instructed, I’d attached €5 worth of Spanish domestic stamps to the renewal form, but these couldn’t be used for international delivery. I was a bit taken aback to learn that the Embassy was perfectly willing to send the passport to any Spanish address I gave them, so a friend could forward it to me in California. That seemed a trifle casual, but I was so grateful there was a solution that I wasn’t about to challenge the wisdom of their protocols.
All this took a remarkable amount of time, and now, of course, we are down to the wire. Rich and I have tickets to fly out of California on Tuesday, January 17. With all of Spain shut down to celebrate Three Kings Day, it will be Monday, January 9, before the passport can be dispatched to me.
But none of that is the worrying part.
At the moment, our little town of San Anselmo, CA is scurrying for sandbags and rubber boots, bracing itself for the worst storm in years and the very real probability of major flooding. Every twenty years or so, a torrential downpour coincides with an incoming tide, causing the little creek to overflow the banks and storm drains, filling downtown San Anselmo — my neighborhood — with waist-high floodwater.
So I’m picturing my new passport arriving during the predicted week-long deluge and, in the casual tradition of deliveries in our small town, being left on the welcome mat. I imagine the package sitting at the front door unnoticed as the flood evacuation siren sounds, sending us racing out the back door toward higher ground, while the raging torrent snatches my passport off the welcome mat, carries it down into the storm drains, and eventually deposits it on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
But hey, I’m an optimist. This December alone I survived an earthquake, evacuation in a previous flood alert, a day-long power outage in near-freezing temperatures, and several furnace breakdowns. Somehow I’m not surprised that my new high tech passport has been delayed by such old-school issues as postage stamps, a religious holiday, and now, quite possibly, a flood of Biblical proportions. I’m positive there is a slim chance I’ll take delivery of my passport next week so I can return to Seville — God willing and the creek don’t rise.
So how's winter been treating you this year?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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