Sunday, April 17, 2016

Consular Blues

I just thought the title of this post sounded amusing.  Friday we had a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to deal with some passport issues.  One nice change from a few years back is that you can mail in your passport (from Canada) for renewal if 1) you are an adult, 2) you won't be needing to travel for a month or so, and 3) there are no other weird, hinky issues that you have to talk over with the consulate staff.  In my case, I did have to visit.

I think the lines used to be considerably longer, but not as many people seem to be trying to get visas for the U.S. (another very popular service at the Consulate).  Either they already got them, or the exchange rate is keeping people from visiting the States.  The lines did seem longer in Vancouver two or three years back, which I attribute to a larger population from Asia (particularly young people on student visas in Canada) that needed to get visitor visas and to the better exchange rate.  Believe me, I am certainly not complaining that the line wasn't down the block!

Anyway, while they do stress this several times, you cannot bring anything electronic into the Consulate, including laptops, cell phones, key fobs that could start a car, and even FitBits.  (This last item came fairly close to tripping us up.)  And there are naturally no lockers at the Consulate to store them while you go in.  There may be some store nearby that will hold them for a fee (according to some reviews), but it is much better to arrange things to not have any of this on you.  In our case, I was able to drop things off at work, then we walked over to the Consulate.

The other thing that they don't tell you until the last minute is that if you are dealing with passports is that you need to bring a prepaid Xpresspost envelop addressed both from and to your home address.  It is fine to get the Regional one, not the National one, but it is best to get the slightly larger one (not the very smallest envelope).  That currently runs just under $15 Canadian.  The Consulate also does not accept checks (even those drawn on US accounts).  They do accept money orders, though since they also accept credit cards, it is probably best to just do that, particularly if some new fee gets added to your total.  While I cannot guarantee this, an earlier appointment is better than a later one, since there are always a few problematic cases that arise during the day that sort of take up additional staff resources.  I put these tips out there, since the more information beforehand, the less stress you will have the day of your visit to the Consulate.

I thought the security procedures here were actually a bit more streamlined than in Vancouver, where I also had to deal with the Consulate.  Once inside, it didn't take too long to get some help at the window, and I have to say that everyone we dealt with was very nice and even in one case quite friendly.  We were in and out in about 90 minutes.  As I said, it really wasn't too bad, though hopefully I won't have to go back for a while!

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