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Tips for Visiting the U.S. Embassy in London

I started the process of getting a new passport back in November (I ran out of pages in my old passport...first world problems) and got notification in late January that it was ready for collection. Normally it doesn't take this long, but apparently I forgot to pay them. Details, details.

Given I had upcoming travel to Germany in February, I decided to delay picking it up and risk not having anywhere for passport control to stamp my passport. Fortunately that all went well. When you receive a letter for the US Embassy that you're passport is ready, they "encourage" you to use their courier, DX. This involves a not very cheap additional cost and when you schedule a pick up, you get an 8am-6pm time window. Seriously! They must have learned this from the people the cable companies.

Knowing first hand how underwhelming the service from the courier is, I decided to show up at the Embassy on Wednesday to pick up my new passport. I was quickly turned away by a crotchety old woman at the door. "No appointment? You're not getting in!"

"But I'm American"

"Tough" she says.

Ok, maybe I can make an appointment. Navigating the Embassy website is a chore on its own. Basically they try to make it as hard as possible to book an appointment for non-emergency services so that you have to use the courier. I suspect they're in cahoots with each other.

Alas, I found a page where you can book an appointment! I have no idea how I found it, but if you ever need to book an appointment with ANY U.S. Embassy, use this page. Fan-freaking-tastic! I was able to get an appointment two days later; certainly not what I was expecting.

The new Embassy is really swanky. And despite what Trump and his followers believe, this was not an Obama-era project. In fact, Bush II was in charge then. According to the Embassy itself:
Beginning in 2008 when we announced the purchase of a site in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth, this is a process that will produce a modern, welcoming, safe and energy efficient embassy for the 21st century.
Here's the best part (and a rebut to the biggest lie Trump has told about the project):
The project has been funded entirely by the proceeds of the sale of other U.S. Government properties in London, not through appropriated funds.
The "sails" design on the outside of the building is supposed to catch the afternoon sun. Ironic isn't it?

Ok, so I head back on Friday morning, turn up at the door with my appointment confirmation, and the same crotchety woman checks my name off the list and welcomes me in her ever polite manner:

"Do you have a laptop?"

"Of course I do, I'm headed to work."

"You can't bring it in" she says. "It says so on your appointment."

I showed her my confirmation and asked her where it says so. Crickets. "Well where can I leave it?" I say.

"You can go back to the train station or there's a coffee shop around the corner."

In case you need to go, the coffee shop is the green dot.

WTF! I had a laptop the first time I went to the Embassy, but I knew she wasn't going to have any of it. I walked to the coffee shop and yes, they'll hold it for you, for £10. Oh this surely is some kind of scam. I had no choice.

As you enter, you're literally NEVER asked for ID. Not at the entrance, not while going through airport style security, not even at the check-in desk upstairs. That seems kind of strange to me.

Anyway, while you're not allowed to bring in a laptop, you ARE allowed to take pictures. So, here are a couple from the second floor, where you go for Consular services.

This is where you wait for your number to be called. You then go to the windows on the right for service.

The view of the Thames is pretty spectacular, even on a grey day.

I only waited for about 5 minutes and was able to collect my new passport. Phew! I can now travel again. In summary, here are my tips for working with the Embassy:
  1. Book an appointment
  2. Don't bring a laptop
  3. Don't argue with the woman at the entrance
  4. Enjoy the view
The people inside were extremely friendly and helpful. They told me exactly what to do about my visa and other things I need to update (you get a new passport number). Essentially, I'll need to carry both my old and new passports whenever I travel. Fair enough! Hopefully I don't have to go back anytime soon. Though the kids' passports expire in 2020. I wonder if Ms. Grumpy Pants will still be working there.


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