I made the dreaded trek out to the Tel Aviv US Embassy today with Shauli, Jonah, and Kayla.
We needed to take care of a couple things. Report of Birth Abroad for Kayla, passport for Kayla, and passport renewal for Jonah.
We had already tried this once at the Jerusalem Embassy but arrived late for our appointment and were told to leave because we were too late. And we had rented a car and made a special trip out to Jerusalem! Talk about frustrating!!!
After that bad experience, we decided to try out the Tel Aviv Embassy and finally got around to making an appointment.
We took the new bus direct to the train in Rosh HaAyin and then the train to Tel Aviv. Yes, I know we could have taken a bus straight to Tel Aviv but you never know if you will get stuck in traffic (most likely you will) and I know for the kids, it's way more exciting to take the train. And for me, it's way more comfortable to take the train!
From the train in Tel Aviv we took a cab to the Embassy and arrived about 15 minutes before our scheduled appointment. Shauli took our backpack and phones to go check them at a nearby storage facility (for 10 NIS). In the meantime, the guard checked that I had an appointment and pointed me towards the door for people with strollers. I was allowed to take in our stroller plus my diaper bag/purse. Truth is, I think I could have gotten away with a much bigger bag (a real diaper bag or something close) and put in food, drinks, pretty much whatever - as long as it wasn't electronic. As I was going through security a lady said to me, "Oh, I think you are coming to see me." And I answered, "Um....I don't know?" And she said, "US Citizen services?" And I said "Yes, passports and for my baby." And she said "Yep, you go right ahead and I will be there in a few minutes." I told her I was looking forward to it because she already seems so nice!!!
As I was trying to open the door, another person came along and offered to help me. And then a nice man saw that I looked lost and pointed me in the right direction for US Citizen Services. Woohoo! Off to a good start. Everyone so friendly and English being spoken everywhere!!!
We got to the room and it was empty...... I looked around and was like ok... am I in the right place? The place where I expected to wait hours.....there must be a trick. I brought Jonah over to the toys (they have toys, a TV, kids books, and magazines!) and looked at the 4 windows which were all empty. Then a man on the other side noticed I was looking a little confused and came over to his window where he apologized profusely because he didn't notice I was waiting. Can you imagine?? He apologized to me!!!!
Shauli arrived and we told the man (who actually was Australian and a new worker there) what we were there for. We went through all the papers I had brought and I was actually prepared and gave him the forms, originals of all documents, plus photo copies! Except I had brought a regular size envelope instead of a large one, luckily they have extras on hand there and too much postage (I brought enough for 2 envelopes but he said they would put them all in one when they send them back).
My fear was the passport photos..... I had them taken for the kids at 2 separate places and they ended up being 2 different sizes (neither of which were 2x2). Apparently telling the Israelis taking the passport pictures that you need American passport photos, doesn't cut it. They have no clue what that means (at least the ones in Ariel). I knew Jonah's were way too small but I was hoping Kayla's would make the cut... They didn't. Lucky for us there was another woman there who overheard and told us that the same place where they check bags also do passport photos (I bet they get a TON of business). So Shu took both kids there to get new photos done and I finished with the paperwork. Everything went smoothly, the man was so helpful and pleasant.
Shu returned and we paid (ugh) with our American credit card. Then we took a seat and waited. Not too bad though - 15-20 minutes? As soon as we discovered the books/magazines we got called to the next window. That's where my "friend" from earlier was sitting. She checked our receipts and had us sign a few things (even let Jonah sign his own passport paper). Made some cute faces at Kayla and chatted Jonah up. And then sent us on our way!!!!!!
We were in and out the door in less than an hour!! WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dare I say, it was almost an enjoyable experience.... Here I was expecting a total nightmare based on various stories I have heard and it turns out (in my experience) the people were so nice and helpful, there were no insane wait times, and the whole thing was generally a very easy process.
Since we had all that extra time, we actually went to the beach afterwards (right behind the embassy) and then headed over to Azrieli mall where we met my friend, Laurie, (who I know from Ben Gurion Uni) for lunch. Mmmmmm....Chinese food.....
We also happened to get roped into a new phone plan with Cellcom (many many more minutes for less money and fancy new phones!) And the crazy part is - I spent about 2 hours or more dealing with Cellcom!!!! More than double what I spent at the Embassy. Who knew?
So....moral of the story. If you expect the absolute worst, you can only be pleasantly surprised.