Running out of pages in your passport…the Drake lyric from his song, Hotline Bling rang through my mind as I flipped through my own passport.
I always thought it would be cool to have a really full passport, and on one hand it was. Here I was, 23 years old, with a passport that only had a page and a half left. Travelling has always been a passion of mine so this full passport was like a beacon of pride to me.
It has the stamp for the Bahamas, my first international trip without my family. It’s got the stamp for Ireland, my first trip without an adult. It has my first full page visa, the visa that let me live in Belgium. It’s got stamps for Morocco, Romania, England, Italy, Taiwan and many more. It’s got full page visas for Vietnam, Cambodia and Korea too. I have my “ebola free” sticker stuck to the back of this old passport. I always felt a twinge of pride when I watched the immigration officer flip through my passport to look for empty space.
After my trip to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, I came back to Korea with only a page and half left in my passport. Quickly, I realized this was going to be a problem.
I had a trip to Japan coming up. And here’s a little known fact: Most countries require you have AT LEAST 2 full blank pages to grant you entrance to their country. Japan included. Doesn’t matter if the sticker Japan gives tourists would fit in a small corner of my passport, doesn’t matter that they probably wouldn’t deny my entry for only missing a half blank page, they still could technically (and legally) deny me entry if I don’t have those two full blank pages.
More than Japan, I have a big trip coming up which was going to require at least two full page visas, and a lot more pages for stamps.
So I was left with one option: I had to renew my passport.
As an expat.
Right before the Olympics. (This is notable. Lots of people try to renew their passports before the Olympics so the State Department can get backed up.)
So I did the first thing any person my age does when you don’t know how to do something.
I went to Google. Typed in: “American Passport Renewal in Korea”
This yielded some minimal information from the US embassy website and some forum posts from like 2011. Not incredibly helpful.
The one helpful thing I found: since 2016 you CAN NOT get extra pages put into your passport. You can ONLY renew it.
Here are the steps to getting your new passport in Korea:
- Fill out the application.
- Get new passport photos taken.
- Get a money order for $110.
- Mail the application, new photos, money order, and your old passport through the embassy courier service.
- Pick up your package from the courier service with your new passport enclosed.
LOL. Come on guys, this is life. Is anything ever that easy? No. No way. Renewing your passport in Korea, idk about other places, but in Korea it’s a huge bitch.
Step 1: Fill out the application
Filling out the application didn’t pose to many problems. Make sure it is printed and signed before you send it off.
Step 2: Get new passport photos.
Be aware, you can no longer wear glasses in US passport photos.
In Korea, subway stations have photo kiosks you can use, (select the 5cmx5cm size) there are also usually a lot of photo shops in the subway stations too. Just walk into any of these and ask for AMERICAN sized passport photos. I happened to pick a very unhelpful man. Our conversation went like this:
Me: 안녕하세요 (Hello)
Him: 내가 영어를 말할 수 없다 (I can’t speak English)
Me: 괜찮아요. 저는 한국어로 말한다. 미국 여권 사진주세요 (That’s okay. I speak Korean. American Passport Photos please.)
Him: 미안해. 영어를 못해 (Sorry, I can’t speak English.)
Me, trying my best to stay composed and not strangle him: 알아요~~~~ 저는 한국어를 말하고있다~~~~~~~~~~~ (I KNOW. I. AM. SPEAKING. KOREAN.)
After that whole song and dance I finally convinced the man to take my photos. In Korea they like to photoshop their pictures, and as soon as the photo taking was over he started photoshopping the crap out of my photo. The US does not allow photoshop, so if they see that your photo is shopped they won’t renew.
I told him please don’t. He told me this is the Korean way.
He printed the photos and sent me on my way. Step 2 of 5 done.
Step 3: Get a money order for $110.
This is definitely the most time consuming step.
The money order is for $110, this covers express shipping for your passport and a 52 paged passport. If you renew your passport abroad they automatically give you the bigger passport, instead of the standard issued 28 pager.
Keep in mind, only a few Korean banks do money orders. Most notably, KEB/HANA and NH. But even then not all NH locations do money orders, so despite NH being my bank I decided to go KEB where I KNEW they would do money orders. Also if you go to the main branch of KEB in your city there is a good chance some or most of the attendants will speak English.
Next problem, Korean banks close at 4:30 and are not open on weekends. If you’re a teacher like me, this is a big problem. The school day ends at 4:30 and your school usually won’t let you leave early UNLESS you use your VACATION TIME.
Did they actually think I would use a vacation day to go to the bank? Yeah right. (ALSO I only mention this because it WOULDN’T bother me if Korean teachers were held to the same standard, but they’re not. They can leave early without using vacation time basically whenever they want.)
I asked to go to the bank after all my classes were done, this way I wouldn’t be missing time with the kids. My school flat out refused. So I did what any rational person would do in that situation. I called in sick the next day. Say what you will about the ethics of it, I tried to compromise.
Once at KEB it was really just a waiting game. Wait for my number to be called, wait for the attendant to fill everything out, wait for the money order to be printed.
Again, its $110 in US dollars, made out to “CASHIER FMC U.S. EMBASSY SEOUL” afterwards print your name and your Korean phone number on the back of the money order.
Step 4: Mail the application, new photos, money order, and your old passport through the embassy courier service.
This was the worst.
First you have to use the courier that the embassy provides. Now this particular courier service’s website and phone numbers ONLY use Korean. No English. Why the United States EMBASSY has an exclusive contract with a courier service that offers NO English support is beyond me, but whatever, I am not the State Department.
Tried the website, translated quite nicely, but pretty much as soon as I hit the send button, my cellphone started ringing. They were calling. My worst nightmare. Here’s a replay of the convo on the phone:
Me, scared: 여보세요? (Hello)
Him: *A super fast string of Korean that I couldn’t really understand.*
Me: 천천히 말세요. 나는 외국입니다. (Slow down please. I am not Korean.)
Him: *Faster incoherent Korean screeching.*
I finally gave up and handed the phone off to my coteacher. I don’t like to do this, because he is my coteacher. Not my handler. Not my babysitter. He always happily does things to make my life here easier here, but HE DOES NOT HAVE TO. He set it up that they would pick up the package at my school with the school secretary.
It costs 10,000 for pick up and 10,000 won for drop off, so I left the package addressed to the embassy with my old passport, the photos, the application, the money order and 20,000 won with the secretary at my elementary school.
Now it was just a waiting game.
Step 5: Pick up your package from the courier service with your new passport enclosed.
Now the wait was not too long, I sent my passport in on November 6th and received my new passport on December 5th.
Of course it wasn’t easy picking it up from the courier. First he called me. Another nightmare…
Him: 나는 내일 간다. (I am coming tomorrow. Though he said this REALLY informally. It is pretty rude in Korean culture to talk like this to a customer, but once it is revealed I am not Korean, people usually switch to 반말 aka banmal or informal language. It pisses me off to no end but whatever.)
Me: 몇시? (What time?)
Him: 내일 (Tomorrow.)
Me: 알겠어. 내일 몇시? (I understand. What time tomorrow?)
Him: 한국어로 말할 수 있습니까~ 저 영어할줄 몰라요. (Can I speak to a Korean? I don’t speak English.)
Me, hyperventilating and trying to not rage scream into the phone: 우리는 한국말을하고 있습니다~~~~~~~~~~~~ (WE ARE SPEAKING KOREAN. YOU. IDIOT. Now I know that my Korean is not perfect, but it IS understandable and I get SO frustrated when people don’t even TRY to communicate with me.)
My coteacher, who has been listening the whole time, wrestles my phone from my hands and says: 내일 몇시? (What time tomorrow? EXACTLY WHAT I SAID BUT WHATEVER.)
My coteacher: A really fast string of Korean, I don’t remember the exact words but he basically was scolding the man on the phone for using informal language with a customer and not making a proper effort to speak to me despite us speaking Korean together. Though he ended with a very sharp: 당신은 영어를 말하려고하지 않았습니다 (Didn’t hear you trying to speak English.)
The package came the next day, while I was teaching of course.
But finally I had my passport in my hands again. I could travel and I even got my old one back, so I still have all those travel memories. Plenty of space for Japan and the rest of my trips.
All in all the biggest obstacle I ran into when trying to renew my passport was other people, but it is doable.
This blog post has gone on way longer than I thought it would. If you’re still with me, great! Stop procrastinating and go renew your passport.
P.S. As soon as you get your new passport, fax a copy of your new (SIGNED!!) passport, the front and back of your ARC, and your ARC updated information application (you want the first one, Integrated Application Form, just fill it out with your new passport number) to your immigration office. This is so they can tie your new passport number to your E2 visa. Basically if you want to continue to be in the country legally you have to do this. If you don’t they can fine you up to 200,000 won.