I’ve been to more than 20 countries and have lived outside America for more than 7 years total in my life, and yet I have never found the need to go to an American embassy. Luckily I have never been in a place with political turmoil in which I needed to be rescued, nor been arrested. But amazingly I’ve never even had a petty bureaucratic problem until now.
You see, my passport is totally filled up. It’s not even an old passport, I got it right before I came to China. But to get my residence permit every year I need two blank, facing pages. And that is something I don’t have anymore.
Luckily, Americans can get pages added to their visa (for now. They will end this program at the end of the year.) It costs $82 and according to the website takes only 30 minutes with an appointment. (You need to book one ahead of time via their website.)
The hilarious (ironic?) thing is the United States Embassy in Shanghai is located in a mall. Yep, a mall. Gucci and fro-yo on the bottom floors, embassy on the top. Oh sure, I think they have one of those fortress-like buildings somewhere in Shanghai that could protect me if I needed it, but they don’t do the visas and such there. Instead, you go to the mall.
Walking in with an American passport made me feel like a boss. Like everywhere in China there were millions of people waiting in line, but I got to go to the front, no questions asked. Just flashed my passport and locked doors were literally opened for me.
I’ve been to the Chinese embassy in New York City, and they make you turn off your phone (they watch you as you do it.) But America went one step further and took away all my toys. My phone, my kindle, my battery charger, the cord I charge my phone with and a USB the x-ray turned up hidden in my bag. It sucks because you end up waiting for a bit and have nothing to distract you.
There are two sections at the embassy. One, a giant room snaked with lines and many windows for Chinese trying to get a visa to America. Total chaos. Then there is a little room for American’s who need passport services. Only 4 windows (one of which was the cashiers) and seats for you to wait.
It took forever for me to get to the window. With no kindle to while away the time I just sat and listened to everyone else’s problems. I listened to the one ABC guy as he explained (in a pitch perfect California accent) how he lost his passport yet again,
“Well, see, I was drinking. And it was in my bag. And, ya know…”
“Sir, I see this is your 3rd replacement passport,” said the embassy guy.
“Well, yeah, I keep losing them.”
I also had to listen to the American dad with his Chinese wife and trying to fill out an application for their young baby to get citizenship. Of course you are supposed to have your application totally filled out by the time you arrive but this guy had some few questions.
“I couldn’t finish the application because I have a few questions. Where it says address, what do I put?”
“Your address sir.”
“Okay, I see.” He was quiet for a moment as he filled it out. “And here where it says relationship to applicant I say father of the child?”
“Yep,” said the woman very patiently.
“And here where it says phone number I put…”
“Your phone number.”
It was tedious as hell. He hadn’t filled out a single line in the paperwork himself and he stood at the window doing it line-by-line. There was only one window open and this guy set us all back a good 15 minutes.
There was also a window for notary services which wasn’t very busy. An old man, with dirty jeans and his white hair covered by a trucker-style cap, took the opportunity to talk to the woman behind the counter about “when I first came to China 20 years ago…”
I also watched several people raise their right arm and “swear” they told the whole truth for whatever service they were getting. (The dude with the lost passport had to swear it was stolen, and not sold.)
As for my issue, it was over in a second. I handed in my (totally filled out) application, had to pay a fee (interesting thing was the accepted visa/mastercard but not unionpay, the Chinese credit card company), and waited fifteen minutes till I got it back.
They just stitched in the pages, they are a lighter blue then the rest, and now my passport isn’t as pretty as it used to be, but it’s not a problem. Overall I was impressed with the efficiency of the embassy and rate it higher than other American bureaucracy like the DMV. It was much more efficient.
And now I have so many new pages, guess I’ll have to start traveling to fill them up!