Renewing My Passport from Offshore...


It has been ten years since I last renewed my US passport.  Back then, all I needed to do was download the Renewal Form (D-82) form from the internet, fill it out, attach two pictures, my old passport and a certified check for $80 (mas o menos) and mail it into some governmental black hole.  Within two weeks my new passport, along with my old (cancelled) passport was mailed directly back to my house.  How simple is that?  But wait... I'm in Costa Rica.  There is no mail delivery to my house?

Now, ten years later, I have to go through the process all over again however, this time I have to do it from foreign soil.  That complicates matters quite a bit.

Since I no longer reside within the borders of the United States, I was now required to travel to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, a 3 1/2 - 4 hour drive (each way) over mountains and a new highway with a very dangerous and deadly reputation. 

Having followed many of the recent reports about the nightmarish and horrendous customer service provided at Costa Rica's U.S. Embassy, I was not looking forward to this upcoming passport renewal quagmire/adventure.


Look AT The Birdie And Smile...

New pictures will be necessary to complete your renewal.  You have two choices, bring new pictures with you or have new one's taken at the Embassy.  For only 1000 colones (2.00), you can walk up to the Fuji Camera kiosk just as you clear Security.  They will take your picture, print and trim it to the required size.  The other option allows you to control the quality of your image by seeking the services of an outside photographer.  That's what I opted for and it only cost me 2500 ($5.00).  I've seen the Fuji pix taken at the Embassy and I'm glad I went the route I did.  The quality of the Embassy pictures are on a par with the shabbiest of police mug shots.

Reality Trumps Perception and Concern

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that reality trumps perception and internet BS.  The entire process turned out to be not only highly efficient but delivered in a very professional manner.  I was in and out of the Embassy in less than 45 minutes.

The long drive from Guanacaste to San Jose was a piece of cake.  The traffic seemed quite light, probably because I was traveling on a Tuesday.  The recently repaired Caldera Highway was in pristine condition which allowed me to buzz along at 90 kmh.  My GPS lead me with deadly precision right to the front door of the U.S. Embassy.  There a man guided me to a parking spot just 40 meters from the front door. 

Security is extremely tight at the Embassy, as it should be.  I had to turn over everything metal or electronic to Embassy Security before they would let me in.  That even included my belt.  I recommend you leave stuff like cell phones, cameras, iPods, loose change, securely locked in your car before entering the Embassy.  Once everything is secured you are directed inside.  But after fours of driving I needed relief and made a bee line for "los baņos."

Now, feeling 1000% better, I made my way to a small machine that generates "next in line" numbers.  I pressed the appropriate button, retrieved my ticket number (D-415) and took my seat in the queue.  I was pleasantly surprised to look up and see the sign flashing "NOW SERVING D-409." 

In less than 15 minutes I was called up to the window where I was greeted by a friendly Costa Rican man who spoke near perfect English.  After exchanging a few pleasantries, he instructed me to give him my old passport, the completed renewal form and my new photograph.

As the agent began reviewing my documents I saw him smile. Then, from behind the glass cage, his voice blasting through the security speakers, boldly commented on just how fat I was ten years ago.  The folks in the waiting room, as well as your trusty writer, shared the humor as well.

Minutes later I was presented with an invoice and instructed to go to the cashier's window just three feet to my left.  I paid my $110 dollars and was given my receipt.  

The One-Way Option...

The U.S. Embassy will not use Costa Rica's postal system to send new or renewed passports to individual homes or even post office boxes.  Instead, the U.S. Embassy offers is to have DHL securely deliver the passport to any of it's satellite facilities located throughout Costa Rica. 

In my case, I paid just 3000 colones ($6.00) to have my passport delivered to the DHL office in Liberia, just a short 30 minute drive from my house.  That sure as hell was better than another 12 hour day driving to San Jose.

Unfortunately Canadians aren't as lucky.  The Canadian Embassy requires all passports be pickup either in person or by a previously designated and authorized third party.  That sucks, but those are the rules.

This Just In...

In less than two weeks from the date I first traveled to San Jose to renew my passport, DHL sent a text message to my cell phone saying my new passport was ready for pickup.  All I had to do was bring a photocopy of my old passport and my DHL receipt.  Two minutes later I walked out with my new, 10 year passport. Sweet!!!!


All the information you would ever need about the passport renewal process can be found on the U.S. EMBASSY WEBSITE.  It also includes downloadable forms.  Save yourself the trouble, DO NOT TRY AND COMPLETE THE ONLINE VERSIONS OF THE FORMS.


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