My Trip to the Consulate

I took a day on Wednesday to travel to Vancouver and apply for a US passport. The US passport form is pretty straightforward, but the consulate experience is anything but.

Step 1: Getting an appointment. Last month, before my last trip to Vancouver, I thought I might combine the trip and take care of the passport application at the same time. No dice, appointments for passports are booked up a month in advance!

Step 2: Getting in. I arrive at the building, which has a security checkpoint on the ground floor (consulate is on floor 20):

Necessity is the mother of invention, so I run across the street and ask the counter-lady in a dime store to hold my laptop and phone. She graciously agrees. Now electronics-free, I return, and am allowed in.

Step 3: Going up. Me and a group of VISA applicants (pity the poor VISA applicants) wait for the secure elevator. The doors open, and there inside is a delivery guy with a palette of Dell computers! OK, we squeeze in, and the security guard swipes his card and presses the button for 20th, then gets out. We go up one floor. Someone gets on from the general building population! We go up to 17, and the Dell guy gets off with his computers. At 20, we get off, having traversed the world’s most porous security cordon. However, it does explain…

Step 4: Getting in, again. Despite having gone through a screening on the ground floor, you get screened once more on 20! No doubt because the ground floor screening simply lets you back out into the general building population.

Step 5: Waiting. Even though my appointment is for 10am, the more experienced people with me say that they have waited for as much as 2 hours in the past in order to be served. I am fortunate, and only wait 20 minutes.

Step 6: The envelope please. The staffer who takes my papers and walks through them is very helpful, but at the end he has a strange request. In order for me to get my passport, they have to mail it to me. However, they have cancelled their old courier contract. Would I mind going to the building across the street, buying an ExpressPost envelope and returning it to him, so he can mail the passport.

Step 7: Out, down, buy, back, in, up, in. Getting out and back in is faster now that I now the drill. Rather than asking me my business, the security guards just look at my purchase, nod sagely and say “Ahhh. Envelope.” I am joined on the elevator by two other applicants, envelopes in hand.

Step 8: Done. Back on the street, I put my belt back on, recover my electronics from the dime store and tip the nice lady, and head out.

There is a nice business opportunity available for anyone who wants to stand outside the US Consulate in Vancouver and run a phone check business for $1-per-phone. You could probably sell ExpressPost envelopes while you were at it.