How to Renew US Passport Overseas
If you're an American expat who lives overseas, or even just a traveling American, you may find yourself needing to renew your US passport whilst abroad. This is actually extremely easy to do, and there is quite a lot of misinformation on the internet about it. I just did it myself last week, so allow me to clear up some of the rubbish that people have posted around the net on this subject. It's very easy to do, and in most countries you DO NOT have to surrender your US passport while you wait on a new one! That is the biggest bit of rubbish out there! Keep reading to learn how easy it is to get a new American passport while you are overseas.
You are renewing by mail
The first thing you need to realize is that the embassy or consulate (or whatever you've got in your neck of the woods) is not going to make your passport for you. They are simply going to send your passport application along in their USA-bound post and deliver your application on your behalf. And then, when the US Department of State issues your shiny new biometric passport, they will send it back to that embassy and they will hand it over to you.
Delivering your application in person
Most US embassies do allow you to make an appointment and take your application in personally. Unfortunately, a few do not, and they will only accept this application via mail... London appears to be one such embassy and I must say I find it appalling that they would force an American to wander round without a valid form of identification, but as I've said most will allow you to bring it in person. And when you do, you simply say, "Hi, I need my keep my passport during the application process!" and they will say, "Ok! I'll just make a copy of it then and give yours back!"
Yeah, man; it's really that simple. You can do this in Copenhagen, Prague, and many other countries. And their FAQ's even say it's possible, so let me be clear that it absolutely cannot be Dept. of State policy to make people surrender passports when they renew in a foreign country. It's just ridiculous as you need it! Most foreign countries stipulate that you MUST have it on you at all times or you are breaking a law, so, yeah, just ask nicely and they will let you keep it.
Getting into the embassy
Something to note here is that different US embassies have different security procedures. I read one FAQ from another country that said even purses cannot be brought in, not even documents that aren't meant to be used during that particular visit! My embassy lets you bring in anything other than large bags, but all of them will require that you turn your phone off and check it with security before you go inside. And most now require that you make appointments online, so do that first.
Picking your passport up
It took 5 business days to get my new passport. Really. Some countries vary on this, depending on how frequently they send and receive post from the USA, but most of them are in that time-frame.
The biometric passport
I'm a Libertarian and I have to say I don't understand all the fuss about the biometric passports. I think people don't understand what it means. I gave a photo, and that was it. A normal photo and from that they could, theoretically, identify me on a security camera if I turn into a nutter someday. But they didn't even need a thumbprint, which my US bank made me do 10 years ago, so I am not going to whinge about a little photo on a passport. They are not all that exciting, though some of the quotes in the new US passport do seem a bit ominous... otherwise, it's a nicer passport all in all.