I recently visited Clayallee in Dahlem, near the Brandenburg border, to register my newborn as a U.S. citizen born abroad and apply for a passport. Despite having gone through this process twice before in Berlin, I must admit that this time was the most challenging for us. Between dealing with my father’s hospitalization towards the end of my pregnancy, the typical stresses of having a baby, and now managing three children, it’s not surprising that things were a bit overwhelming.
However, I wanted to share my insights on applying for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and a first U.S. passport while they are still fresh in my mind so that you can be better prepared than I was. Even with the assistance of official guides and resources provided by the State Department, the process can still be confusing. Just like the Germans, it’s best to be well-prepared. Here are my top tips for applying for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad and the first U.S. passport from Germany.
Please note that I am not an expert in this matter. I am simply an American living abroad who is happy to share my recent experience. When applying for your American child’s first passport, it is important to rely on official resources, the provided wizard, and the guide to U.S. Passport Applications for individuals under 18 years of age.
Is a personal application required?
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that it led to increased digitalization of many bureaucratic processes, particularly in Germany, which is known for being slow to adapt. I was amazed at how much easier it has become to apply for a German passport and go through the naming process for my most recent child compared to my previous experience. The government office (Amt) sent me an email detailing the requirements and appointment, and when I arrived, the atmosphere was calm and relaxed, in stark contrast to the chaotic and overcrowded hallway I encountered last time. It was a much more civilized experience!
However, not all areas have undergone such improvements. When applying for a birth abroad and passport, both parents and the child must be physically present. If one parent cannot attend, they must give official permission by completing Form DS-3053, also known as the “Statement of Consent.” Additionally, everyone’s likeness, including even a newborn baby, is verified against their photographs.
It’s important to note that the American embassy in Berlin is not the grand and massive building conveniently located next to the Brandenburger Tor, as depicted in the picture. The office for citizen services is actually located in the southern part of the city, so most people will need to allocate several hours for the appointment and consider the time required for travel. There are also embassies in Frankfurt and Munich that you can utilize, and it’s advisable to consult their specific websites as instructions and visiting procedures may differ slightly. It’s crucial to schedule your appointment with the correct office as well.
What items are permitted to be brought into the United States Embassy?
Visiting the embassy, although it can often be intimidating, is also a delightful experience of American customer service. From the German guards stationed outside (who maintain a high level of security) to the American staff inside, everyone is welcoming and friendly, which is quite refreshing if you’re accustomed to German customer service. There were smiles, courteous explanations for any waiting times, and accommodation of our specific needs.
My husband is diabetic and typically carries his insulin pen and some sweets in case of low blood sugar. When the guards expressed concern about these items, we offered to leave them in the cubbies outside. However, upon learning that they were medical necessities, they instead assigned us an escort who held onto the items in case we required them, and this person accompanied us during our visit. It felt quite special to have a private escort! We were even allowed to bring our diaper bag, although we were informed that typically only one diaper should be brought in hand.
The website prominently mentions that it is advisable to leave most personal belongings at home if possible. For instance, large bags are not permitted, and American citizens can leave their cell phones in the cubbies during the security check. When accompanied by children, we brought our stroller but left it outside. Other parents opted to use a carrier and could wear their baby during their appointment.
The necessary documents for your child born overseas with American citizenship
Although there are extensive resources available for your applications, one aspect that can be frustrating is that different pieces of information seem to be stored in various places. When I was making my online appointment for the CRBA (Consular Report of Birth Abroad), I was unsure if I needed a separate appointment for the US Passport and how to apply for the social security number.
Here’s some good news! You only need to make one appointment for the CRBA, and you should come prepared with completed applications for both the CRBA (Form DS-2029) and the Passport (Form DS-11). Within the instructions for the CRBA, you will find a single-page form indicating your desire to obtain a social security number/card as well. One thing I overlooked was the need to make enough copies of the applications for both the CRBA and passport. Oops! Fortunately, they were understanding and made the extra copies for us during our appointment.
The last tricky part is obtaining a passport photo. I always worry about this when dealing with a newborn, but the truth is they are quite understanding about it. While general photo requirements mandate that the child faces forward, has their eyes open, and has a plain background, there is more flexibility for babies. However, do note that the passport machines commonly found in German cities are configured for German passport sizes and do not meet the standards for the USA. Additionally, they are impractical for positioning a newborn appropriately. You can find the complete guidelines here.
A final reminder: Remember to apply for any additional passports or visas you may need! While one passport might be sufficient for many individuals, it is important for third-culture kids or people living abroad to have all necessary documents up to date before traveling. In the case of my American family residing in Germany, this means obtaining not only a U.S. Passport for my baby to travel to the USA and meet our American relatives, but also a German visa for their re-entry into Germany. The process of obtaining a German visa is generally straightforward and simple, although finding an appointment at the Bürgeramt may pose a challenge. Nonetheless, it is crucial to complete this step before departure. Similarly, if you have a German-American baby born in Germany and plan to visit the United States, they will require both their U.S. passport to enter the USA and their German passport to re-enter Germany. It is not possible for them to enter the USA on a German passport if they are a U.S. citizen, nor can they re-enter Germany on their American passport.
I hope these tips assist you in smoothly navigating your appointment if you are also applying for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and your first U.S. passport from Germany. My best wishes are with you!