Renewing Passports in Paris

On Friday, we woke the kids up at 5:30 AM so we could drive to Paris. We had an appointment at the US Embassy to renew the four youngest kids’ passports — Olive, Oscar, Betty, and Flora June. I spent many hours prepping for our appointment, and happily it went very smoothly. (Big sigh of relief!) The woman who was assisting us thanked me for being so organized and prepared and I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I’ve never felt more proud. : ) She said it would take about ten days to process and then the Embassy will mail the new passports to our house, which means we won’t need to go back to Paris to pick them up.

In the past, when we’ve needed to renew passports, we’ve always been living the U.S., so this was our first time reapplying from a foreign country. We’ve heard that the passport processing time in the States is currently 8 weeks or longer, so I’m guessing they must have a speedier process for people who are living abroad. Which makes sense I guess — it’s nerve-wracking to know that our kids currently don’t have a passport (and won’t for another two weeks) and we are in another country.

If you haven’t applied for a passport for a child before, you might not know this, but for kids, passports only last for 5 years — for adults, they last for 10 years. So you have to reapply every 5 years until they are age 16. After 16, the next time they apply, their passport will last for 10 years. Oscar turned 16 last week, so he and Olive will receive 10 year passports, and Betty and Flora June will receive 5 year versions. Something else to keep in mind: for children, if there are two parents, both must be present when you apply for a passport (you can get a special form notarized ahead of your appointment if that’s not possible).

Have you ever visited a US Embassy abroad? I’ve only visited the one in Paris, and this is only the second time I’ve ever been. It’s very near the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde. I find the experience of visiting the Embassy quite intimidating. The security is intense! You can’t bring in your laptop, or any food (even packaged food in your bag — like we had some Reeses that Olive had brought us). They watch you turn off your phone before you come on the grounds, and even then, they take your phone and don’t return it until you leave. So there is absolutely no photo-taking on the grounds or inside the building. And of course, lots of metal detectors.

Once I was inside, I thought it might feel fancy, but really it feels mostly like the DMV. Hah! (I’m guessing there are fancier parts of the building that I did not get to see.)

In case you’re curious, on Friday, the Embassy did not have a portrait of a Biden up yet (at least, we didn’t see one), but there was no sign of Trump either. So perhaps they were in-between portraits. : )

When we first moved to France, we got a passport for Flora June when she was six months old! So she had a baby picture on her passport until we renewed it at age five. Kids change A LOT between 6 months and 5 years. I’ve been thinking about that for Oscar too. He’ll have a passport with a photo of himself at age 16 when he’s using his passport at 25. I imagine he’ll look quite different then.

Have you ever applied for passports for your kids? What was the experience like for you? And have you ever visited a U.S. Embassy when you were traveling? Maybe you lost your passport and had to get an emergency one?

P.S. — Here are some of the Instagram Stories I shared from the day in Paris (watching them feels like a mini-trip to France!). There are more if you want to watch them on Instagram (this widget doesn’t show anything where I add music — and I add music quite a bit):

28 thoughts on “Renewing Passports in Paris”

  1. I’ve never been to a U.S. Embassy but we did get passports for all three of our kids in 2019. We live in Arizona and would like to do more traveling in Mexico. You can go a certain distance over the border without passports for your kids but we took a trip where we almost didn’t make it in because they didn’t have passports (we did have their birth certificates) and decided we really should get them. I also wanted them to have an official form of photo ID. My 13 year old and I were supposed to take a big trip to England and Scotland this past May for his birthday too but of course that has been indefinitely postponed. Now we’re dreaming about his 15th birthday! Getting their passports went pretty smoothly but it is a lot of paperwork no matter what. Glad your renewal application went smoothly!

  2. In the late 70s we took a family trip to Mexico. For some reason, the travel agent had not told my mom that my brother and I needed passports/birth certificates. We flew into Mexico City, and then officials told my parents we would not be allowed to stay and would need to fly back to the US. After much pleading, (my dad said he was mentally going back and forth on whether they were expecting a bribe, and would that get him into further trouble if he offered-so he refrained), they agreed to let us go to the American embassy and sign notarized documents stating that we were American citizens. That is my one and only time of going to an American embassy. There was definitely security-but nothing like now-and it did seem like just an office building. It is one of my most memorable childhood vacation stories!

  3. You always seem to have it all together-you even make stressful chores sound like a treat. I envy your ability to manage a large family!

  4. I’ve been to one embassy while overseas. We were on a government sponsored teacher education program so we visited the Australian embassy as part of our tour. It was a bit fancy but we were in reception areas rather than doing business. There were metal detectors and id checks but not crazy security. It was well over 10 years ago so mobile phones weren’t such a thing and we all took digital cameras in. I’ve had to renew a visa while overseas before, but that was just in a local government office of that county, not an dealing with Australia at all.

    American embassies are possibly more over the top security-wise everywhere though. I base this on living near all our embassies, and they all have open days from time to time (in the Before Times at least) and you can easily tour all the open embassies EXCEPT the US. You need to have booked in and had all these id and security checks done prior to the open day and then have your ID verified on the day. It’s all very regulated and controlled. Everywhere else is just open and nothing feels like a big deal at all. We can even go inside parliament without that much security! Maybe it’s an underlying cultural difference that changes the approach?

  5. We went to Switzerland to visit family when our daughter was an infant. I remember how challenging it was to try to keep her upright without us showing at all in her passport photo. I was relieved that we didn’t travel with her brother until he was older.

  6. My brother was two weeks old in his first passport picture, you can see my mother’s hand holding his wobbly head. Mom also had to hold his hand up and swear that he would not join a foreign army. Things were different in the ’60s.

  7. We went to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru, the day after George W Bush was elected and we were so sad and embarrassed that our country had made that choice. The security there was super intense. The building was like a concrete fortress. Not a fun trip, but the rest of the year spent in Peru was amazing.

  8. I live in the UK and always renew my passport through the post (sending it to the US Embassy in London). However I was amazed the last time I sent everything off – I had to sent a money order to pay!! In this day and age the Embassy wouldn’t accept cheque, bank transfer, bank card?! I had to go to the Post Office and organise a money order. Thank goodness I only have to deal with it every 10 years!

  9. We ended up not needing them, but read that we may be asked to show age progression photos for our youngest since she was under 5 years when she got her first passport, and we had to renew hers at the US embassy in London. We still have the photo album on my phone titled, “Proof she’s ours” because the collection was so cute. But overall it was a smooth process – we needed to take a train in the night before & stay at a hotel for our early morning appointment but they had the six kids all sorted and we were in and out (including security) faster than we expected and the new passports were back to us within 10 business days. We couldn’t have laptops but we were allowed to keep our phones and the littlest kids were excited to be given stickers and what looked like a US embassy collector card – which made me wonder if the other embassies hand those out to kids needing to visit, too. :)

  10. I have lived overseas my whole adult life and have only had the chance once to renew a child’s passport in the USA. It was so wonderfully stress-free compared to renewing passports in Europe, starting with the fact that I live three hours from the closest Embassy, whereas, in the USA we didn’t need an appointment and I was only a five-minute drive away in case I forgot anything. Entering a building with guards holding machine guns is SOOO stressful.
    In 2004 my husband took off work, we arranged childcare for our other kids, and we drove 3 hours (6 RT) to Munich to get our infant daughter’s passport— only to find the Embassy closed in honor of Reagan’s death! No one had told us our appointment would be cancelled! When the Embassy was open again, I complained on the phone, and the staffer was very sympathetic, saying she knew how bad the trip was because she often had to drive out to our city in her line of work. I asked her why, and she said, “You know there’s a prison there? Well, some of our compatriots are inside.” I quickly asked her if we could meet her there on her next visit, and she reluctantly said yes, so my baby got the passport in a prison.
    My son is fortunately able to go alone now to renew his passport. Normally, you must leave belts, purses, phones, everything in the security kiosk in front of the embassy by the security guard. This time, (2018, Berlin) the guard told my son he’d have to take everything off, but he couldn’t leave it there, he’d have to store it outside the building. Frantic not to miss his appointment, my son ran outside and saw that a BAKERY across from the consulate had a sign in the window offering to watch valuables for a 5 euro fee. So my son leaves everything there and runs back to the consulate. After his appointment was over, my son asked the security guard why he couldn’t leave his valuables in the kiosk. “That service is only for Americans.” “But I am American.” “You don’t look like one.”
    ???? What does an American look like????
    I complained AFTER his passport arrived safely.
    Gabrielle, kudos to you for all your organization with your kids & bureaucracy, love having you as a fellow expat in Europe.

  11. I have lived abroad for the past 11 years, so have been to the USA consulate many times. I find their services very efficient – maybe that’s in part a comparison of doing similar admin in another country/system/language! The thing that always strikes me is that the USA consulates seem to be in such prime locations. They’re often smack in the middle of high end shopping areas or near historic and central parts of town. It makes it convenient to get there, but I always think how expensive the property must me! Never mind the insane security, the prison-like architecture which also cost a fortune!

  12. I’m overdue to renew my kids’ passports, and I so appreciate the info you shared about 16-yo’s being able to get a 10 year passport (I thought it was 18). My daughter turns 16 in April, so at this point I’ll wait until then! Thank you!

  13. Your comment about expecting the embassy to be fancy but really just feeling like the DMV made me laugh out loud, because that is my exact experience with the U.S. embassy in Madrid! Ha! Glad it went smoothly. It is an intimidating place and the process is very nerve-wracking until it is complete!

  14. I’ve been to two US Embassies abroad, South Africa & Kenya. I renewed my passport in South Africa and had to get some documents notarized in Kenya. Both were well organized and had outdoor space to wait for your number to be called. When I had my passport renewed they let me keep my old one until I could pick up my new one. I would have felt so naked not having a passport.

    I never felt so privileged as when I was inside those two embassies. Taking care of administrative tasks most of the people in those particular countries only dream of. It was heartbreaking to hear visa denials and the arguments to reconsider the decision.

  15. After studying Mandarin in Taiwan for 9 months from 1985-1986 during my Junior year in collage, a friend and had decided to take 2 months and travel. We were a little over a month in China and planned to take the Trans Siberian railroad from Beijing to Helsinki- we stopped in 3 cities and that trip took 3 weeks.

    While in Beijing staying and touring we heard that the US Embassy was hosting a 4th of July party. So of course we went, i’m not remembering the security so much as the hot dogs and potato chips they had for us to eat. The crowd was a mixture of expats and backpackers and everyone was in good spirits. The evening ended with fireworks and cheers.

    We have 3 children, our boys got their passports at around 2-3 months. My hands are visible holding up their little wobbly bodies. Our daughter was adopted from China at 2-1/2 and while there picking her up she got a Chinese passport that we used to bring her home. Interestingly we have to send that Chinese passport (she immediately got a US passport once we got home) to the Chinese Embassy along with her American passport every-time she applies for a Chinese visa to travel back to China. She is forever frozen as an adorable 2-1/2 year old in her Chinese passport.

  16. We are German, and here it’s quite common for kids to have passports … it is not obligatory to have them, but you will even need them for a domestic flight in Germany. So both kids have passports with their baby pictures (6 months old), they are valid for six years.

  17. I remember having to visit the US Embassy in London a couple of times (my husband and I were living in London and planning our move to the US, but we are New Zealanders) and it was terrifying! I’ve also been to the UK Embassy in New Zealand and the New Zealand embassy in the US, and my experiences there were so much more positive than at the US Embassy – felt like they started from a place of trust whereas the US started with suspicion as their default. This was over ten years ago so may have changed in recent years. It’s a terrible experience for foreigners trying to (honestly, legally) move to the States, as is customs at the airports. It’s a useful thing to remind myself of when I miss living in the US though! I should add that I am cognisant of the need for heightened security for US buildings, and I did love living in the States for the most part. It was just very scary getting there. 😊

  18. Just helping my 2 teens get their passports stressed me out. I don’t know why. Making sure they keep track of all their stuff in general stresses me out. I’ve never been to a US embassy overseas and I grew up near DC surrounded by all the different countries’ embassies. That was quite cool seeing their flags waving in front of these beautiful buildings that looked like mansions to me at the time. Kudos to you for keeping on top of everything!

  19. I’ve only been to the US embassy in Moscow, and renewed my passport there a couple years ago. “Like the DMV” is pretty accurate. I was there around 8 am in February, which in Moscow means it’s still dark, and it was snowing. The line for visas was pretty long, but there was a separate line for American citizens (and apparently not many Americans with appointments that day!), so I didn’t have to join the long line of people waiting outside in the snow.

    The processing time there was also 10 business days–I guess they figure that those of us who live abroad need our passports more frequently? Glad everything went smoothly for you!

  20. My husband and I got our kids’ passports at one of our local post offices on New Year’s Eve a few years ago when ours needed to be renewed. The postal worker was extremely kind and friendly, which made it a much more pleasant experience. Like you, I had things organized to a T, since there were so many of us. Part of what I found interesting was that even though the paperwork was all submitted and mailed together (one big envelope for our whole family), the passports themselves trickled in over the course of a month.

    I got my first passport for a high school trip. For that one, the organizers of the trip had a “passport application night.” We showed up with our birth certificates, they gave us the paperwork to complete, and from there they handled everything, including taking our photos against a white wall in the school cafeteria!

  21. Our family has traveled a lot ever since our children were born, so we have renewed passports at the local post office, in various capital cities in Europe and Latin America, and in the passport office in a nearby city (and BOY are we lucky that it exists, because we are not as careful about checking expiration dates as we need to be and the staff at that office have been SO nice about dealing with our unnecessary emergencies!). We’ve never had a bad experience — hats off to the US State Department — but our kids have gotten a crash course in navigating bureaucracies. Since they’re dual citizens, it’s useful information!

  22. me and my family have 2 passports, mexican and french so we regularly go to renew passports either in Mexico or in France, because we’ve lived in both countries for the last 20 years. Passports last 10 years in France but in Mexico you can choose to renew for 2 years, or 5 or 10, according to your means. I hate these paperworks, always. The key is really to go prepared, follow the rules exactly and have the extra photocopies…

  23. Isn’t that Place de la Concorde, rather than Place Vendome, in the background? What an amazing part of Paris that is! I’ve never been to an embassy, it sounds like a nerve-wracking experience but your kids are going to be experts at handling all kinds of life experiences by the time they reach adulthood. Thanks for sharing your life with us!!
    P.S. glad to hear the trump portrait was no longer on display…..

  24. I used to be a Foreign Service Officer, and I explained my consular work exactly as you did – like working at the DMV. And there were no secret glamorous portions of the U.S. Consulates and Embassies I’ve been in. But the top floor of Main State in DC is pretty fancy.

  25. My husband is a diplomat and he has served in three different embassies (I was with him at two) and I agree with L, the embassies I have been in are definitely nothing fancy.

    Also, I worked in a consular section at one of them and had to analyze progression photos on several occasions. Some were easy, but others were *really* hard to confirm! Honestly, if I had to analyze my own kids photos (they were both weeks old when they got their first passports) I’m not sure I would believe they were the same kid!!

  26. At the American Embassy in Dublin (in late 2019), we couldn’t bring any electronics—including the key fob for our garage door! They caught it when we put our bags through the scanner and had us take it out of our bag and put it in the locker with our phones and smart watches.

    Our older son was at school the day we went and it was so nerve-wracking to be completely unable to communicate with the outside world while we waited for our application to be processed.

  27. We had a “family passport” in the early 1970s – my parents and I were the photograph, and we all had to travel together. I think they replaced that after one year, but it was super odd. :) (so I have been told; I was very young)

  28. Funny thing about your “between portraits” comment. I work for the US federal government and, in every federal building I’ve worked in, when a new administration comes in, the portraits from the old administration stay up until their replacements arrive (usually a month or two into the new term). I went in to work on January 21, and the portraits of Trump and Pence were gone. Apparently, empty space will do just fine until the official portraits of Biden and Harris arrive. I’ve never been so elated to see a blank wall.

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