Part of being an expat is deciding if you want your kids to be registered as citizens of your birth country. Sometimes you want the tax benefits; sometimes you think that it is better for the kid in the future; and sometimes you think that it is worthwhile, or necessary, of the present.
We never really debated the subject; it was just kind of obvious that since Yitzchak and I are both American, and we have family in the States, that we would register our kids as American citizens. When Shlomo was born, and we realized the expense involved (admittedly a pittance in comparison to expats who are not married to other expats, or who did not spend any time actually in America), we thought about just getting him a visa for his Israeli passport whenever we wanted to travel. Not only did this turn out to be against the rules, it wasn’t even worthwhile financially. We spent about a thousand shekels on getting him a Report of Birth Abroad and an American passport, and then we still had to get him an Israeli passport (because we were planning to travel). Now, we had to register Tova. Having no immediate travel plans, we pushed it off and pushed it off and finally decided to get it over and done with, for the sake of taxes.
Here is the story, for those who are interested in life in Israel and life as an American expat.
Part One: Making the Appointment
There is a U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, and there is a U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Because we used to live in Jerusalem, we went to the consulate to register Shlomo. Because I hate Tel Aviv, and know where the consulate is (since I’ve been there before), I emailed the consulate and asked if we could still come to Jerusalem, even though technically the consulate is only for the residents of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The response I got was that we could go to the consulate and did not have to go to Tel Aviv.
Throughout this narrative, I write, “I,” because while we weren’t sure if Yitzchak would end up coming, it was pretty obvious that I had to go, since I am nursing Tova, and was still on maternity leave.
Then, I had to make an appointment with the consulate. There were a few issues with this:
1. It is, at minimum, a two and a half hour trip into Jerusalem, not including the bus that goes from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to the consulate. Two and a half hours, multiplied by two trips (there and back) is already five hours minimum. From the Central Bus Station to the consulate is about an hour each way, by bus. Taxi might be faster, but costs a lot – maybe 100 shekel, or more, per trip. The taxi may not save us time, either, because Jerusalem has awful traffic jams. So far, we have a seven hour trip at minimum – and that’s not even counting the time we would spend at the consulate, which is calculated to be about an hour and a half, on average. Total amount of time to travel from home to the consulate and back: 8.5 hrs. Or, in other words, an entire [work] day.
2. We needed to get Tova a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. Let it be known that this is an absolutely gorgeous document. We also wanted to get her, and Shlomo, social security numbers. When Shlomo was a baby, I sent in an application for a social security card, but we never got the card. I don’t know if the application was rejected or if the card never reached us. At any rate, because we wanted their social security numbers for taxes, we wanted to make the appointments in enough time to send in the forms at least before the June 15th expat tax date. Looking back, I realize that my calculation was foolish, since it can take up to six months to get the social security cards. But no matter. We need to do it, and the sooner the better.
We debated whether to get Tova a passport at the same time.
The pros: No need to worry or race if we end up traveling, or if we decide to move back for whatever reason.
The cons: An extra $105 (about 420 shekel), and it expires in 5 years; Yitzchak would need to waste an entire day so that both of us would be present, or we would have to waste money on a notarized consent form that he allows his child to get a passport when he is not physically present; if both Yitzchak and I are at the consulate, where is Shlomo?
Which leads us to #3:
3. Only the people who are absolutely necessary for the appointment are allowed into the consulate. In other words, if you are applying for a Report of Birth Abroad, one parent accompanies the child. If you are applying for a passport, both parents. But – if you have another child who has nothing to do with the appointment – he will not be allowed into the consulate. Hmmm . . . I considered making a fake appointment for Shlomo (because, after all, he did need a social security card, even if I didn’t need a separate appointment for it), but Yitzchak reminded me that Shlomo coming with us meant Shlomo running laps in the consulate, for about an hour. We decided to that it was worth trying to avoid having to discipine him. After all, what’s wrong with running laps? (Answer: Nothing. It’s just that the consulate isn’t really the place to do it.)
4. We are always loath to part with such large sums of money. The trip to Jerusalem is about 80 shekels round trip. The Report of Birth Abroad is $100 (400 shekel). That’s a LOT of money. But we have no choice; we are required to file taxes and we want to be able to write down all exemptions possible, just in case, somehow, it may in some fashion look like we earn enough to actually owe something. Plus, we probably qualify for $1000 a year, per child, in tax returns. With Shlomo we were too lazy, and stingy, to get an accountant to deal with it, and we didn’t know how to file ourselves. But things have changed since then (mostly expat tax laws), and it looks like, lazy or not, we need to file this year. Which means, why not do it all at once?
5. The appointments are made online. You can only make one appointment per child. I cheated the system, not knowing which day I wanted to go, and wanting to make sure I had an appointment that worked for me. The system allows you to make appointments only for the next three weeks or so, and they get taken very quickly, leaving only 8 or 8:30am appointments, and even then, only on one or two days out of the month. You need to really keep on top of the appointment site in order to get one that works. I made two appointments for Tova, and got past the system’s block by changing a letter in her name.
Part Two: The Stupid Rules
American security is infinitely stupider than Israeli security, for the simple reason that they do not know what they are doing. One example is what I wrote above – only the people pertinent to the appointment are allowed entry. Here are a few others:
– If you come more than half an hour early for your appointment, you may be denied entry and your appointment will be rescheduled. Gee, it’s nice you wrote that on your website and not just on the window outside the consulate, for folks like me who are dependent on buses, live a few hours away, and called Egged, only to be told that the only bus that goes to the consulate leaves once an hour, at a quarter to the hour, and takes 50 minutes to get there. It’s a shame I didn’t schedule my appointment differently. On second thought, maybe I couldn’t have scheduled it so that it worked with the bus schedule.
– If you have a stroller, you need to leave it at the gate. Oh, and they aren’t responsible if it gets taken. Make sure you bring a sling, if you have a baby, or your arms will get exhausted.
– In order to be allowed entry, you first need to prove you have an appointment. This you do by handing them the printout of your appointment details and the documents and forms that you brought with you. The guy you proved it to gives you a pass. Then, pass in hand, you go to the security guy, who asks you more questions, gives you a basket to put your phone and charger in, and asks if you have other electronics that need to be in the basket. Basket in hand, you go through the doors, to pass through the metal detector and put your bag through the x-ray machine. If, like me, you have forgotten about an electronic device that you happen to have in your bag (I forgot that I had the camera), they get very angry at you and treat you like you are a bigger threat than Iran. The contents of the basket are put into a “cell” and you are given a card with the cell’s number, which you present in order to get your belongings back when you are done. By the way, they are not responsible for any electronics put in the “cell”.
– Let’s say you need to make a phone call. You go back to security, show your card, get your belongings (all of them), walk outside, make your phone call, and need to be readmitted by the guard. Let’s say you need to get a document or whatever, and you walk out for a second. Same deal.
– They take checks, written for the exact amount, according to that day’s exchange rate. No credit cards. They take cash, but do not give change.
– No one is allowed to wait outside the consulate.
– No sealed envelopes are allowed in.
For more stupid rules please see here.
Part Three: The Debate
I had a Thursday appointment and a Friday appointment.
Advantages of Thursday:
– If only I go, and I am on vacation, it is just a waste of a day (and not a waste of two peoples’ days and double the money).
– It leaves me all of Friday to prepare for Shabbat. Therefore, it is less stressful.
– I can also do some clothes shopping while I am there (I hate clothes shopping, but sometimes there is no choice); on Friday the stores close early and I probably won’t have time to shop.
Advantages of Friday:
– If we are not home for Shabbat, it is not a wasted trip.
– Yitzchak has books to pick up in Jerusalem; if we go as a family and are not home for Shabbat, we “kill” two birds with one stone.
– We do not want to be home for Shabbat anyways, since it is the Shabbat before Pesach.
– If I go on Friday by myself, I can meet my friend, who I haven’t seen in ages.
In the end, my cousin saved the day. We went on Thursday afternoon to Jerusalem, I did some shopping, we stayed at my cousin’s overnight, and early in the morning I went to the consulate, and Yitzchak went to pick up his books. Then, we all traveled to Kfar Chabad for Shabbat, and after Shabbat went home. On Thursday night we changed the clocks, which meant an hour less of sleep for everyone, but more time to get things done. It was tough, because we were exhausted from all the running around, but we made it. My cousin was also traveling for Shabbat, so we helped them get out, as well.
Total time spent going to and from the consulate: 4 hours. Not bad, considering that if we had traveled to Jerusalem just for the consulate, it would have taken an entire day.
Oh, and I forgot – Friday was our fifth anniversary. And we spent it traveling. To and from the consulate, from Jerusalem to Kfar Chabad. We had thought to do something else, less for the anniversary than because it was an excuse to get a babysitter and take a breather. But in the end, like every year, we forgot the date until afterwards.
Stay tuned for the next section of this riveting narrative . . .