There are few things more exciting to me than heading on vacation internationally. And the first time we’re taking our kids to another country? Even better. But obtaining their passports? Not so much. Because it is, as I have learned in the past few weeks, a complicated, bureaucratic pain. Since I have been delightfully enduring it, I figured I’d at least offer a brief description of the pleasures all parents can expect as they prepare to give their kids the first taste of the world, and the very real agony it takes to get there.

  1. It can be a very long road. Truly. It can take 6-8 weeks to receive your passport once the application has been submitted. That’s standard and what everyone generally expects, unless you pay extra to expedite it. But a passport for kids? Oh yeah, you need an appointment for that. In Raleigh, that means that before you can do anything else, you first have to call a number, where you are immediately redirected to a voicemail. You leave a message with your name and phone number, and wait eagerly for them to please call you back. And wait. And wait. And if you’re in a meeting when they do finally call back? Talking to your boss, for instance (which is exactly what happened to me), you sadly, very sadly, watch that call go to voicemail, where they do not leave you a message, and then you start this process all over again.
  2. The paperwork! No surprise here, governments like paperwork. And for some of you, this will be no biggie. But for me, who proactively ordered 3 copies each of my kids’ birth certificates a few years back, and is now down to one per child (where did the others GO???), somewhere, somewhere in this pile of papers or in this file cabinet, or maybe this box… And those social security cards MUST be around here… I never did find the social security cards. Instead, I dug up those numbers from old tax return submissions. Just to be clear, you will need: certified copies of birth certificates with seals (not photocopies), social security numbers (thankfully, not the actual social security card), and a color photocopy of both parents’ legal identification, at minimum. Very possibly you will need more items. Read on.
  3. Your physical presence. In order to submit a child’s passport application, you must show up to the aforementioned appointment. But not just you. You, your child’s other parent, and them. Its a family day! In Raleigh, the only time these appointments take place? Between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Super convenient, right? Particularly for my husband, a teacher, since it’s always so simple to just duck out for an hour or so on a school day. There are, supposedly, the oh-so-coveted Saturday hours, but when I made our appointments at the beginning of September, for a mid-December trip, those were booked out well into November. Perfect. Additionally, the employee at the post office I had to bring my children to seemed incredibly annoyed that I had dared to allow them into the building. And I WAS REQUIRED TO BRING THEM. I took them out of school for this. Meanwhile the employee barely acknowledged their presence except to look irritated as I tried to keep them quiet and stop them from attempting to open each and every safe deposit box in the entire post office.
  4. If both parents/legal guardians cannot physically be there for the appointment, which was the case for us (see why, above), you can instead fill out MORE PAPERWORK! Yay! This is just a consent form signed by the absent parent, pretty much stating that they know the kids are getting passports and it’s unlikely the other parent is trying to whisk them out of the country in disguise and assume new identities. But then, the consent form must be notarized, of course. One more hoop to jump through in the passport circus.
  5. My favorite part. I think what I liked best throughout this entire process was the very last step- handing over forms containing my children’s social security information, dates and places of birth, actual birth certificates, photographs of them, color copies of their parents’ licenses and signatures, and watching all these documents get placed on top of a stack of papers, with a bunch of other peoples’, I’m assuming, confidential personal information, on the counter next to me. Not in a sealed envelope, not in a drawer, not even out of reach of the next person who would be standing at that counter right after me. Just sitting there. As I gazed uncomfortably at my children’s applications and envisioned some 46 year old man sneaking out of the post office, ready to assume his new 6 year old girl identity, I shuddered, and then asked what was to me the obvious next question- can I have my confirmation number, please? The helpful employee gazed at me blankly and shook her head, explaining that I would receive the passports in the mail within 6-8 weeks. Confirmation? But why?

Post-script: I feel compelled to include that after the hassle of applying for these passports, the actual documents arrived shockingly quickly- in less than two weeks. So although this event felt like an accountant version of the Hunger Games- a survival of the fittest to see who was truly willing to go the distance needed to get out of our country, at least the result is a good one. And now I can feel excited about our upcoming trip, instead of anxious that I’ll end up completing it solo.