Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adding passport pages

With all of the recent travel (50,000 air miles already this year), it’s not surprising that the passport is getting a bit crowded.  I tried to get additional pages inserted while I was in the US, but they require me to send or drop off the passport for several days.  So I headed up to Amsterdam today to get things taken care of.

The Amsterdam embassy is one of the most unfriendliest places on the planet.  Not because of the building, a rambling Dutch mansion at the corner of Museumplien across from the van Gogh museum.  Nor because of (most of) the staff, who are unfailingly polite.  The problem is the procedures, which far surpass anything that the TSA dreamed up for airports.

It begins with the website.  Nobody is admitted without an appointment, which must be made online.  the instructions (page after page) say to follow links for getting a new passport in order to add pages, leading to totally inappropriate forms.  Scheduling is tight, it’s best to book at least a week in advance.  All appointment confirmations and forms  must  be printed prior to arriving at the embassy.

People without appointments or documents are turned away.  Those arriving late may be turned away.

embassyThe entry is being reconstructed, so the temporary gate is around the park-side of the building: a massive automatic gate with a raspy intercom.  The guard asked everyone to show their cell phones, turn them on, turn them off, disassemble them, and let him swab each one.  Then they were confiscated. 

And that was only the first step.

After dealing with TSA monthly, I' know the drill.  I put everything into a bag that I left with the gate guard, everyone else had bags searched and anything suspicious being confiscated.  As a rule, don’t take any electronics with you.  The guard said he wished there were more like me – I’ll take it as a compliment although he might have been doing an irony check.

There are two more layers of security to pass through before being admitted to the embassy, where there’s another line to the windows.  I ran into trouble immediately.

The web site has the forms: if you don’t bring one you risk losing your slot and delaying others, the clerk chided, giving me a form and sending me to the back of the line.  Honestly, of five people asking for new pages, nobody had located the form on the web site, so we all circulated.

That will be 86 dollars or 60 euros.  I beamed, having remembered to bring cash.

We don’t give change: didn’t you read the web site?  We take US credit cards; no debit cards.

It’s only 9:30 am: I can only imagine how she feels by noon.

Another line has formed at the exit: the guard is nowhere to be seen and the call buttons are disconnected.  People trying to get to work are starting to panic.  The same single-file, one-at a time procession operates in reverse to leave, first through the gatehouse, then at the gate.  Only full-body scanners are missing.

Back again at 2:30 to pick up the finished product – more of the same procedure: getting in, sorting things at the window, exiting.  The car parked at the Q-Park is accumulating time at 5 euros per hour.

Still, I seemed to be doing better than the folks who had lost passports (desperation) and those waiting to get documents notarized (resignation).  $50 a page for notary services (and bring two witnesses)!

The embassy, heavily fenced, decorated with cameras, ringed with guards, feels and acts like it’s under siege – kind of sad that the country puts that face towards the rest of the world.

Their product is a bit haphazard too…

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