(Thursday) Thoughts: Passport Misadventures

Note: This was originally written on Thursday…but life happens..so just getting around to posting it.

So, today we went to renew Lucia’s passport.

We failed.

Let me back up a little. Lucia got her first passport as a newborn, in preparation for a trip to accompany her Mommy (and Daddy) on a short-term mission trip to Peru. Since that was several years ago, it is time to renew her passport! Kyu has been filling out official government paperwork, getting Lucia’s picture taken and printed, and assembling various documents needed for the passport renewal over the last week. We chose today for visiting the post office to submit everything. Earlier, Kyu checked the USPS website and found that passport services are available during normal business hours.

So, today…we headed to the post office. We went to a location near a park and where we’d be doing another errand. All four of us piled out of the car, headed inside, stood in line, got to the customer service desk, and were briskly told that “passport services are by appointment only.” We laughed at ourselves and left, quickly making new plans to complete this task. As it turns out, this particular location required an appointment that could be made online. This policy is recent, only implemented last November. We also found out that our “normal” post office location—you know, the one where we have a PO Box—actually does take walk-in passport service requests. And of course, since we were in another part of the city, we didn’t have enough time to get to that location before closing time.

Let me repeat this line: We laughed at ourselves and left, quickly making new plans to complete this task. Today’s passport renewal errand failed. But we have the time, energy, and resources to be able to complete the process tomorrow. Here’s the thing, though: this is a teeny, tiny taste of what life abroad can feel like. Let’s reframe this through the lens of international missionaries.

Here is the task list:

  1. Locate list of required paperwork and documents.
  2. Gather all paperwork and documents.
  3. Complete paperwork.
  4. Research what location(s) will accept said paperwork and documents.
  5. Check hours for the most convenient location.
  6. Plan transportation.
  7. Double-check paperwork and documents, then take them to the drop-off location.

Now, let’s throw in a few twists that a missionary living abroad might face.

  1. Is the paperwork available in English? If not, are you proficient enough in the local language to read it, comprehend it, then complete each requirement correctly? If not, do you have a bilingual language tutor who can help you? Is it appropriate to pay your language tutor for that?
  2. Are the documents you have (i.e. a birth certificate) acceptable in their original form, or do they need to be translated? Can they be translated by any bilingual individual, or do they need to be government-approved translator? Do translated documents need to be notarized? Or is there a different, but similar standard for legitimization?
  3. Do you know the layout of the city or country well enough to know which location is closest for you to access? Do you know if there are areas of the city you should avoid altogether, or only visit if you have a male chaperone?
  4. Are there standard business hours for the office you need to visit? Do you need to make an appointment, or just show up? Are there interpreters available if you need language assistance? Will multiple visits be required for this particular process?
  5. What types of transportation are available in the city? Is there a subway, a bus system, taxis, motorcycles, rickshaws, or something else? Which option is most convenient? Which is most cost-efficient? Which is the safest? Is it a reliable system? Will a driver be willing to wait at your destination and bring you back to the starting point, or can you easily find return transportation when needed? Are prices negotiable, or are there standard fares? Will I need exact change in local currency to pay the fare?
  6. Are there other errands you can do while you are out, or is that over-planning your daily schedule?
  7. And a final reminder: can you navigate ALL of these things in your second language? (Keep in mind, phone calls in your non-native language are especially stressful. Let’s hope you can avoid having to make one.)

So, a simple task, like submitting a passport renewal application, can necessitate immense amounts of preparation. I don’t write this to complain, but hopefully to shed a little bit of light on what it might look like to “take care of some paperwork” as a missionary in a foreign country. Once again, let me just repeat what might just become our way of life: We’ll laugh at ourselves, quickly making new plans to complete our task.


Kyu and Anna Kim are missionaries based in Medellin, Colombia. Their ministry passion is to walk along with the Colombian church as they develop the growth and expansion of Gospel centered communities.

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