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.
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.
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. :)