It has been years since I renewed my passport and as far as I can remember, it was such a breeze. I just had my picture taken, filled-up a form and paid a travel agency to handle it. I paid for rush processing and I got my renewed passport in 1 week.
This time, I decided to have an adventure and renew my passport without using a travel agency. This, of course, is due in part to an exchange of emails in Newlyweds@Work where it was discussed that it was easy to have a passport renewed. Plus, I really didn't want to let go of my current passport as it has my precious Schengen Visa.
So, I downloaded the application form from the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). It was in Rich Text Format so I just typed in my answers and printed the form. Cool! Then, I browsed through the website to check what other documents I needed to submit. The requirements were on the same page where you can download the form. If I weren't planning on using B's surname, all I needed to submit was the application form, my existing passport, a photocopy of the first 3 pages of the passport and the page where my last arrival is stamped and 3 passport-size photos. The photos must be taken within 6 months from the time the application is filed.
Since I looked terribly fat in my last studio picture, I walked to Greenbelt to have my passport picture taken. First stop was Kameraworld. I paid approximately P95 to the girl at the counter, took a seat and gave the photographer my sweetest smile. They told me to claim the pictures after an hour. And so I did. It was surprisingly clear. In fact, it was so clear that I could clearly see the giant pores on my nose and the blemishes on my face. Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with it.
And so, with my vanity in tow, I walked to the next studio. I saw a Kodak Express around the corner but since I couldn't wait for another hour, I didn't go in. I approached the Tronix booth instead as it promised passport pictures in 5 minutes. And so, I paid approximately P60 to the girl at the counter, took a seat and gave the photographer (who happened to be the girl at the counter) my sweetest smile. Unlike Kameraworld, Tronix didn't have reflectors. All they had was a digital camera and a white cartolina taped on the wall. In less than 5 minutes, they were able to hand me my photo. I looked terribly fat (but I can't do anything about it since the girl admittedly just took photos and not created miracles) but I wasn't too happy with my hair. It looked flat on one side.
And so, the next day, with my vanity and my husband in tow, I visited another photo booth. This time it was the good old Foto-Me. I talked to the girl at the booth, and went straight to the booth. I couldn't find the dark-colored glass which I was supposed to look at! The girl explained that she had to "prepare the camera". By this, I thought that she would be preparing the camera that was supposed to be hidden behind the glass. I was mistaken. She took out a camera, attached it with a cable to where the glass was supposed to be and asked me to sit in the middle of the booth. It was only then that I realized that she will be taking the shot with the camera while I sat inside the booth looking out at the whole-wide world (not actually the whole-wide world, just the bystanders in Grotesco Disneyland who got a kick out of watching people having their pictures taken at a Foto-Me booth.) After the girl took the shot, she showed me my picture on the camera viewer and proudly said that if I weren't happy with it, she could take another shot (and give those idiots another opportunity to watch me have my picture taken?! I didn't think so.) It's a good thing that B loved the shot. The girl at the booth charged me P125 (I should have charged the bystanders P5 each!).
This afternoon, with all my passport pictures, my existing passport and my application form, I went to the DFA. The helpful guard at the front gate told me where to go. However, before I reached the gate, a person from the Mayor's Office asked me if I already attached my pictures to the application form. When I said no, she led me to a table. I handed the lady at the table my Foto-Me pictures. She said that the DFA wouldn't accept them as my face was too small. She explained that the size of the head (from the top of the forehead to the tip of the chin) must be at least 3 centimeters. I showed her my other pictures and she chose the one from Tronix. She pasted one of the pictures at the box at the top of the page, placed the other 2 in a small plastic envelope and stapled the envelope at the bottom part of the application. She then asked me for my existing passport and the photocopies. I handed everthing to her. She arranged and stapled all the documents (including my passport) and charged me P5. That was cheap! I felt generous and gave her a P10. However, as I started to walk to the DFA gate, I remembered that I left my Affidavit of Mutilation (an additional requirement if the passport has some damage) in the office. And so, I went back to the table and asked them if they can prepare 1 for me. The girl at the table looked at my passport, agreed that I needed the affidavit and referred me to another lady who was seated at the next table. This other lady got my passport, asked for my address and typed an affidavit for me in 3 minutes using a manual typewriter! (I drafted a better-worded but basically the same affidavit in 15 minutes using a computer.) She charged me P200. This includes the notarial fee. Not bad!
I was about to walk out when the lady at the first table called me. I went back to her and she explained that she'll re-staple my documents for free. I handed her the documents and she stapled the affidavit with my other documents. She then directed me to the gate.
From the gate, the guard told me to go the basketball court which was only a few meters away. A couple of DFA employees told me where to line up for verification. When I got to Table 1, they checked the pictures and all the documents stapled to my passport. I was then led to Table 2, where they checked the information which I typed on my application for renewal. Next to Table 2 was Table 3, where another DFA personnel read all the documents attached to my passport. He confirmed if I would still use my maiden name even if I'm already married. When I said yes, he gave a sigh of relief and said that it was better that way, otherwise, he would have required me to submit a copy of my marriage certificate on NSO security paper.
From the basketball court, I was led to the main building. The guard told me to line up at Windows 41 to 45. Window 42 had a sign saying "Muslim Applicants Only". Window 43 had the sign saying "Senior Citizens, Veterans, People with Disability". I figured that I could only line up in Windows 41, 44 and 45. I chose Window 41. As I fell in line behind the 6th person on Window 41, I looked longingly at Window 42 as there wasn't anybody in line. I guess the girl at the window saw me as she motioned for me to come forward. I did and she processed my papers! She repeatedly looked at my existing passport, the pictures stapled on my application and at my face. When she was convinced that I am the same person on all the pictures, she made a quick check through my documents and gave me a slip of paper and told me to go the cashier. There were several windows to choose from at the cashier. I chose the leftmost window as there were only 2 people in line (the other windows had at least 6 people each, I couldn't figure out why they weren't lining up at the other windows with shorter lines.) I paid P750 (P500 for the passport and another P250 for rush processing.) The cashier gave me a small slip of paper. When I looked at my watch,I realized that the whole process (including the drafting of the affidavit) took less than 30 minutes! I was impressed.
While waiting for Mang Al to pick me up at the front gate, I told the guard how surprised I was that the whole process was so fast. He said that ever since they removed the daily quota on the passport applications, the process has become more "relaxed" although some people still needlessly go there at 6am just to be first in line.
So now, I'm P1,240 poorer but I'll be claiming my passport on Thursday. Woohoo!
(For those interested in applying for or renewing their passports, check out: http://www.dfa.gov.ph/consular/passport.htm)