I paid a visit to the American Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco for renewing my passport. After living in Italy for eight years, getting married there to another foreigner, and then moving to Morocco, I’ve dealt with enough government offices bureaucracy for a lifetime.

Italy has a reputation for being one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world. Of the three countries, that I have experience with that is true. However, Italy, at least when I was there, does have some strains of humanity woven among the angst of getting documents. I chock that up to the warm, friendly Italian personality.

That’s not to say you won’t meet a few assholes along the way. I personally believe that this is how these types of jobs are filled. The bigger asshole you are, the more chance you have of being hired to do one of these jobs. Granted they aren’t easy. The wear and tear of dealing with so many different situations, people, cultures, and languages can understandably get on your nerves.

I’ve visited the American Consulate in Italy as well as in Morocco now to obtain documents. My observations are this: If you work in one of these locations, you are safe. There is more than ample security to get in and the tanks outside the Italian consulate should scare anyone away. (Including some Americans in need of assistance) I understand the need for this security, but it absolutely makes you feel like an “enemy of the state”.

Frankly, I hope I never need their help for some emergency. They don’t always seem willing to help. They have rules and laws that prohibit them from doing most things it seems. Two meetings I’ve been to in Morocco and Italy with the consulate consisted of them explaining more about what they could not do for citizens than what they can do. It seems they can notarize documents, issue visas, renew passports, and record births. All for a fee of course.

You cannot show up at the consulate to ask for assistance or questions. Everything is by appointment, online, and you must have exact documents showing the appointment, your passport, etc when you enter. I watched furiously while they patted down and scanned a man who looked to be well into his nineties, tried to walk with a cane, but needed assistance to accomplish that. He was frail, scared, and trying to renew his already expired passport. A HUGE problem.

My stomach ties in knots when I know I have to make a visit. Most of this is from dealing with documents in Italy where I referred to my visits as “going to gather information” to alleviate the inevitable failure if I thought I was actually going to accomplish something. There, the documents you need were not always clear and you often left with a list of more things to obtain. This could work for you as well as against you.

The U.S. Consulate is more exacting. In fact, they have the exact list of things that you need without any deviations. I showed up with that (my old passport, the appointment confirmation, and the form they asked to be filled out along with two photos of a particular size and pose) and after paying my fee was told that all was in order. The lead up to this simple transaction was daunting.

I approached the first woman at a desk outside the consulate. There are barriers and soldiers around the perimeter leading you to one opening. I told her I had an appointment and showed her my passport and confirmation and she passed me through to the second guard about 30 feet away. He looked at my appointment which was at 9:45 and told me to wait (it was 9:35)

He asked me if I had any cameras, lighters, cigarettes, aerosol, makeup, explosives, guns, or computers in my bag. I did have a camera and makeup and had to leave them with my husband. At 9:45, he looked at my passport and appointment again, checked me off a list that he held in his hand, used a hand-held wand to scan my body, and passed me off to the guard another 50 feet down the sidewalk. This guard was in front of the door. He checked my passport and appointment and opened the door.

I entered into the “compound” with an airport security scanner and belt. I put my purse on the belt and proceeded through the scanner. The officer at the other end took out my cell phone and asked me to turn it off, took out my phone charger and ear buds, my house keys and put them in a bin for collection upon my return. He gave me a claim ticket.

He checked my passport and appointment confirmation and told me I could enter the door 20 feet ahead. I entered that door, where another guard stood and there were several glass doors with small waiting rooms ahead. I felt like I was in a prison and the surroundings were stark, clean, and sterile.

This guard told me to enter the two doors ahead and have a seat until I was called. I entered a small waiting room where the elderly man sat, another young Asian man, and a woman and her child.

From here, my process went quickly. I waited about 45 minutes for the others in front of me and there is no privacy here as the people behind the bulletproof glass bark out over speakers your name and your situation. I felt particularly embarrassed for the woman with the child who was in a real predicament and was offered no hope of a resolution and her private business was discussed over the speaker for all of us to hear.

They will email me within two or three weeks when my passport is available for pick up. They allowed me to ask questions and when I told them that I would be traveling to Italy in a little over three weeks time and that my current passport was valid for five months and Italy required six months, the only advice they offered was that I could travel at my own risk. It is the option of the admitting officer at passport control whether they will allow me entrance or not.

So, now I am waiting for the email to make the 5-hour trip back to Casablanca on a Tuesday or Thursday between two o’clock and four to pick up my passport without an appointment. Hopefully, this will happen before my trip to Italy! Fingers crossed.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve been through this too, and I agree it’s not fun. Their hours of appointment are very short and sparse. There are numerous checkpoints and very strict rules about no phones and no cameras. It feels like you’re entering a bank vault, with all the different checkpoints and strict guidelines. And you’re going to have to do it all over again in 2 weeks to pick up your passport.

    Those who are in the United States for a couple of months or more should definitely renew their American passports there if they can, because it can all be done effortlessly by mail, none of this nonsense of entering a tightly secured compound only on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon then returning again to pick up the passport.

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