Our U.S. Passports were due to expire in May 2017, so we needed to get them renewed before our next trip back to North Carolina. So how does one go about that in Costa Rica? The U.S. Embassy provides passport renewal services and the following is the process of how we did it.
The first step is to make an appointment at the embassy. So, we went online to the embassy’s website (www.costarica.usembassy.gov), clicked on the “U.S. Citizens Services” tab and selected “Passport.” There we found a link to download the Passport Renewal Application (DS-82) and another link to request an appointment. A screen with available appointment dates and times appeared; we selected one for each of us (separately) which were a couple of weeks out. An appointment confirmation is emailed to you which needs to be printed and brought to the appointment. We then printed and filled out the application form to bring with us. Other items needed for the appointment are your current passport, new passport photograph and payment of $110 (cash or credit card, no checks).
A single passport photo is required which meets the new regulations (such as no eye glasses allowed). You can get this done inside the embassy for about $2, which is what we decided to do since we wanted to make sure the photos passed muster. It was quick and easy.
On appointment day, we drove into San Jose early and arrived at the embassy about one hour before our appointed times. We found a small public parking lot on the side street directly adjacent to the embassy.
As we approached the building, we saw a very long line of people waiting to get inside. Everyone in this line appeared to be Costa Rican, so we asked the guard at the entrance where we should go for passports. He said the line was for visa applicants and that we should go directly to the door at the top of the stairs.
There we were met by another officer who confirmed our appointments. He asked to see our passports and appointment confirmations. Inside the door is the security area with x-ray and metal detector like at the airport. No cell phones, remote keys or other electronic devices are allowed past security, so they put your stuff in a locked pouch, give you the key and keep the pouch until you leave.
Once inside, we saw the photograph station. The line was short and we were on our way with photos in hand after a few minutes. In the same area, we noticed an electronic kiosk that appeared to give you a number, but we were told we did not need to do that and to proceed ahead past the long lines of visa people waiting to get into the next area. We walked through the door and asked the attendant where to go for passports. She directed us to the passport windows on the left, which were not busy at all. It was interesting to note that most everyone we saw or spoke to up to this point was Costa Rican. We approached one of the windows and spoke to the woman (finally an American). She took our completed forms, passports, new photos and reviewed them. All was in order, so we were directed to the next window to pay the passport renewal fee and return with the receipts. When we returned, we received renewal confirmations and were told that our new passports would be ready within 10 business days. We were on our way in less than 15 minutes.
To our surprise, we were notified after just five days (by email) that our passports were ready for pickup. Passports can only be picked up between 8:00 – 11:00 a.m., no appointment needed. All new passports have 52 pages and an RFID chip embedded in them.