Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Travel documents and panic attacks

Well, we haven't booked any flights or accommodations yet (which turns out to be a good thing, see below), but when the doctor told us that the baby could arrive as early as November 5th, that got our adrenaline pumping and minds racing.  We would need to get the planning and packing seriously underway.  To divide and conquer, Travis was in charge of making packing lists and I would be in charge of the paperwork.

Naturally, we leveraged the excellent information and advice we got from Mark, Fred, Critty and others about what to pack and how to approach the paperwork.  Thanks everyone!

When I checked our passports, I realized that they will expire February 2014.  Hmm, I had heard about travel being restricted under certain circumstances when your passport expires within 6 months, and we were within that window.  Now this posed several quandaries:

1. Do we send off the passports and risk that the baby comes while the passports are being renewed?
2. Will we encounter more hassle using two passports, the new one and the old one, since the visa remains in the old passport?  Will a bureaucrat claim the visa is invalid since it is in a cancelled passport?
3. Do we risk it by not renewing and trying to travel anyway?

Even though we had found the list of countries that extend passport validity 6 months after expiry and India was included, there were just so many horror stories on the web and variables to deal with: embassies, airlines, pass through countries, screening personnel, etc. that we didn't want to deal with more uncertainties.  But unfortunately that would continue to be a theme in our journey.

We decided to bite the bullet and send off our passports for renewal right away, opting for standard service instead of rush processing due to the extra cost ($60 each) and turnaround time difference of just a week based on the then-current processing time.  We did opt to send priority mail and overnight return mail ($12.85) for the tracking and peace of mind in getting the passports delivered quickly and safely.  We knew the visa should remain valid in an old passport; if we had to explain this each time, that is what we would do.  If anyone has differing information or has experience with this, please let us know!

I'm happy to report that our passports arrived today, quicker than expected, but alarmed us when the old passport that contained our Indian visa was not returned.  We immediately thought the worst: that we would have to apply all over again, that we had been flagged as requiring a medical visa and would be denied, etc. However, a frantic call to the processing center calmed our fears, as we were informed that the old passport would be returned separately within 10 days.


On to the next item on the checklist.  Since it was recommended that we contact the US Embassy in India two months before our due date, we sent an email introduction to the American Citizen Services (ACS) in New Delhi.  They responded with the following:

Dear Mr. Bluebird:

Thank you for your email.  Please make sure to send the DNA kits to our Embassy.  You will have to contact one of the approved DNA kit providers on our website.  For the exit visa, you can only apply while you are here through our Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office in India once you have the passport for your baby.  We can issue your baby an emergency passport in order for you to get the exit visa.  Please note that the exit visa takes around 10 – 20 days to be issued from the Indian Government.

Please advise when your baby is born and documents are complete so we can schedule the appointment and DNA testing at our Embassy.

Thank you.

American Citizen Services New Delhi

I added the bolding.  10-20 days!  Panic again set in, as this is not what we had budgeted or planned for with work or our families, some of whom were going to help us dog-sit.  With the passport and DNA testing taking about a week, this new wrinkle would extend or even double our stay to a month or more.  It's additional expense and time away from home, family, pets and work.

I know we Americans have been spoiled with the historical (relatively) quick exit process of about 10-14 days total.  We can only hope that ACS are overestimating the visa processing time to eliminate unrealistic expectations.  We've also conjectured that it may be due to FRRO giving more scrutiny for those babies that were conceived in 2013.  Whatever the case, this appears to be the new normal.  We will be keeping an eye out for those returning from baby pick up over the next few weeks to see if this time frame holds.  Please contact us if you have any further information on this!

In the meantime, we will continue to pack, prepare, and look into flexible extended-stay accommodations, while we consider baby names.  All suggestions welcome.  :)


  1. guys sound like contestants in Amazing Race! Intense, Stress, with twists and turns! As for names, I like a normal name plus an indian name as middle name because of the baby's origin. I like Everly Arohi if it is a girl or Noah Jay if it is a boy. Oh I m so excited for you guys!

    1. Haha, it does feel like a contest, and hopefully we hit the jackpot in the end. :) We like that naming idea too.

  2. My daughter traveled with her two passports--one expired with her Indian visa, one renewed without it. It wasn't an issue at all. Good luck and try to enjoy these last days as just the two of you.

    1. Thanks Pam, this is good to know. And good advice--we have started to think of ourselves as two men and a baby already, so I don't know if we can ever go back to thinking of ourselves as just a couple, or would want to. At least until the baby becomse a teenager. haha

  3. My husband travels with his "PR visa of Australia" in an old passport and it's never been an issue as long as visa is of course valid. As for time frame have you guys looked into having a lawyer do whatever running around is nessesary and possibly push through all FRRO stuff "faster". I know cost may be an issue. But if you way out the time frame in $$ for hotels foods transport ect.... A lawyer may be cheaper and faster. I know one that ALOT use when getting exit visa. Let me know if you would like her details.
    And.......holy crap!!! Man you guys are almost there.!! What I ride!! I'm so excited for you x

    1. Thanks Andy, I'm glad we made the right choice about the passports. You know us, we worry because if it can go wrong for us, it seems like it will! :)

      We did reach out to Poonam Jain (if that is the lawyer you were thinking of) and she told us she was not aware of any changes, but they may not have trickled through yet. We have asked ACS for more information about the timeframe and what it is based on. Will keep everyone posted.

  4. Hi Ben, Re: the visa in an old passport, it won't be an issue. Being of Indian origin, I have been travelling 1-2 times a year to India my whole life, and I very often have a visa in an old passport while travelling on a new one. It's never once been an issue in all these years, and I'm sure every passport agent has dealt with that by now, so I'm sure it will be ok. Unfortunately, I have nothing helpful to add re FRRO.

    1. Hi N, thank you for this input. That is what we thought as well, but also saw recommendations about having the visa transferred to new passport, which we have considered but will probably opt not to do. I'm not as worried about the passport agents at airports, as much as I'm concerned the agents at FRRO giving our documents a second look and having a flimsy reason to hold us there longer.

  5. I know nothing about passports, just feeling very excited for you. I've not heard anything about 10-20 days for exit visa, not with any SCI clients I am still seeing through the end process, gay, single or otherwise, and not even with a few people through Mumbai. I guess US Embassy is being conservative with their estimation so try to not stress. this is a time of great enjoyment and celebration for you, and all of us who read your blog! xxx

    1. Thanks Meg, I think you're right. However, I only have a limited amount of vacation time that I had saved up all year for this. If the stay goes over 3 weeks, then I will have to take unpaid leave and have to deal with FMLA, paying for benefits out of pocket, etc. The U.S. in general is not as progressive with its vacation time and paternity leave (often non-existent) as the rest of the world is.