A small insight into life for Americans in France. We are in the process of passport renewal for our 10 year US passports. In the US you would fill out a form, send it with a check in the amount of the renewal fee to the State Department, along with a new passport photo and your old passport. They mail you back your new passport. In France you fill out this same form and mail it with your passport to the US Embassy. However, the Embassy neither accepts US money in the form of a personal US bank check nor a personal check from a European bank (nor a credit card of course). You need a French bank cashier’s check (chèque de banque).
When I went to the nearest branch of my bank, HSBC, presented my bank ID card, and requested a chèck de banque in the amount of 94 €, they told me they couldn’t do that. I would need to contact my bank counselor to make arrangements. So I went home and called my counselor. The counselor never answers the phone, so you talk to the person who answers. He asked me for my name and ID number, then had me input a secret code that verifies I’m really me, and then asked what I wanted. I told him I needed a chèck de banque for 94€ to renew my passport. We discussed that it must be made out to the US Embassy. He told me that it would be ready at the branch near us on the following Saturday morning (2 business days).
On Saturday morning Brenda and I went to the bank branch and asked for our cashier’s checks. They had no record of our order. We presented our bank ID cards and personal identification in the form of passports and residence cards. We filled out forms indicating our names and checking account number, the payee and amount. The bank teller told us the checks would be ready on Wednesday (2 business days), but to call first since our order might not be ready in that amount of time.
The US, like France, is very particular about passport and ID photos. However, the rules for background, size, etc., are different. Though there are photo booths all over France for ID photos, they aren’t correct for US passports. Thus we had our photos taken at Walgreens in Spokane when we last visited the US. Dodged that bullet.
Should we ever get the cashiers checks, I think we will be ready to make application. Since we have to send in our current passports, we need to make sure we don’t need them for at least 2 weeks in the future. That means we can’t travel to other countries or even within France. We will want to send in our forms by traceable mail just in case they get lost.
Unlike in the US, where the State Department sends back your passport for free, in France we must send a self addressed prepaid envelope of a certain type with our forms so that the new passport can be returned to us. It must be a Chronopost for France, or Collissimo, or a Lettre suivie 500g size A4 only. Chronopost is the French mail system’s package delivery. Collissimo is a private delivery service affiliated with the postal system. Lettre suivie is a prepaid, trackable envelope that you can purchase at the post office. I chose lettre suivie because I found the right envelope in the post office rack, but I don’t know if it’s the best choice. Each prepaid envelope cost about $8.
The destination, the US Embassy, is within easy walking distance of our apartment, but it’s guarded like Fort Knox, and you need an appointment to enter. Only plan a visit if you need emergency passport renewal. Don’t try to take a photo either; the French guards will start blowing their whistles and all hell will break loose.