DISCLAIMER: This story is NOT funny in any way; it’s not intended to be. This is the account of my dealings with the Canadian embassy (Consular office) in Beijing as I attempted to renew my passport. I decided to post this instead of a light-hearted tale this week for two reasons: first, I frankly don’t feel like writing anything amusing at this point in time, and second, I wanted to let others know of the difficulties I encountered so that maybe I can save someone else from having to go through what I am dealing with. I’ve tried to be as objective as I can during the actual account, but it is certainly difficult to keep my emotions out of it when it is such a thoroughly frustrating situation.
Here it is…
I applied to renew my passport at the Canadian embassy in Beijing on January 26, 2012. I had to sign a form stating that I needed to retain my old passport, because the Chinese government implemented ID-linked train tickets over Chinese New Year, and I may have had to show my passport in order to board the train home later that day. I also wanted to avoid having to make another trip to Beijing to pick up my new passport, so arranged for them to send the new passport to me by courier & paid the fee for that (this is a service they offer, so it is nothing special or unusual). I didn’t have my current mailing address in Chinese (they would need this to forward my new passport) at that time, so was asked to email it to them as soon as possible. I was given a business card showing the address of the Canadian embassy in Chinese characters (I would need this to mail my old passport to them).
When I arrived home the evening of January 26, 2012, I immediately had my current mailing address translated and emailed it to them. I received confirmation that they received this address via email on January 27, 2012.
I received a call from the embassy on February 6, 2012, saying that my new passport had arrived, and that I needed to send them my old passport and once they received it and cut it to cancel it, they would send out my new passport. The following day, February 7, 2012, I had someone at the school I work at help me to do this (since the address form had to be written in Chinese and I cannot read or write Chinese characters) using the business card the embassy gave me.
By February 16, 2012, I had not received my new passport and my workplace was starting to get concerned about the lack of time to process my work and residency permit renewal.
That day, February 16, 2012, I called the embassy in the morning to ask when they had sent the new passport out. They claimed not to have received the old one yet. Using the bill and tracking number, a worker from my school’s office talked to the courier company and found out that they claimed it was delivered on February 9, 2012 – this meant it had been at the embassy for a week. I made another call to the embassy later that morning (at approximately 11:30, but they close for lunch at 11:00) and had to leave a message asking them to return my call. At approximately 2:30 the same afternoon, they called me and I told them the information from the courier company. Their response was to ask if I had addressed the package properly (I cannot read or write Chinese, so a worker from the school I work at did this, following the address on the business card that the embassy provided). They then requested the tracking number so they could check it themselves (the impression I got was that they did not believe me). Just before ending the call, I requested that the embassy call me immediately if/when they located my passport. I was told they would do this. I did not receive any call from them that afternoon.
The morning of February 17, 2012, I made two calls to the passport office at the embassy – one at approximately 9:30am and one at approximately 10:55am. Both times there was no answer and I was required to leave a message asking the office to return my call.
Some Chinese friends who are trying to help me were in touch with the courier company to try to get more details. They found out that no one was required to sign for the parcel, but that the courier company insists it was delivered. Somehow, they also found information that seemed to indicate it was sent to the “Immigration” section of the embassy, rather than the “Consular” section.
At just after 2:00pm on February 17, 2012, I finally received a call from the embassy in Beijing, after leaving a third message approximately 10 minutes prior (which they hadn’t listened to, the woman informed me; they were finally responding to my first message, left at approximately 9:30am). When I asked her name, she gave me her English name (I could tell from her pronunciation that she was Chinese), but refused to give her family name, saying it was not required and that there was only one person by that name working in the office.
She informed me that the worker from my school had called the office the day before and that they discovered she had not included “Consular Section” on the address label (which she informed me very curtly that she had specifically instructed me to do), so it was not delivered there. She did not know where my passport currently was, but claimed that a worker was looking for it. She did not know how long this would take, as “the embassy is very large”.
I passed along the information about it perhaps being delivered to the “Immigration” section and was again curtly informed that if I did not write “Consular Section” on the address label then I couldn’t expect it to be delivered there.
After nearly 20 minutes of inquiring about a timeline and being repeatedly informed that I should have written “Consular Section” on the address label, I asked to be informed of what the next step would be in the event that they cannot find my passport (after all, it had already been at the embassy for over a week and still had not been taken to the proper section). I was told that another employee would contact me shortly to discuss this.
At approximately 2:40pm, I received another call from the same embassy employee. She informed me that she had spoken to her colleague and they had decided that this colleague should not call me to discuss my options in the event that my passport is never located, because I would probably feel confused and more frustrated. She claimed that they had now sent more than one person to the various sections to try to locate my passport (“even though we normally only have one person to do this job,” I was told in a sharp voice). She claimed that they would contact me by the end of the workday to update me (I asked, and their workday ends at 4:30pm).
At 3:40pm on February 17, 2012, the embassy employee called again. She claimed that they located my passport in “Immigration” at the embassy, but because that office was closed, they were unable to retrieve it until Monday February 20, 2012, at the earliest. She claimed that their postman would be going to retrieve it on Monday and that someone would contact me when they had it in the “Consular” office. When I asked how long the processing time would be between the time they received it and the time all the documents (old and new passports, application, birth certificate, etc.) would be ready to pick up, she said there would be no delay and that I could pick it up anytime their office is open (Monday to Friday between 8:30 and 11:00am).
For those of you unfamiliar with how things work here, a summary of the difficult situation I am in: In order to remain in this country legally, I need to have valid work papers and a residency permit. I cannot get these without having my yearly medical check done. I cannot have this check done (nor can my employers even start the paperwork for the permits) until I have my new passport. The embassy will not give me my new passport until they receive and cancel my old passport.
I also cannot declare my passport lost or stolen; I’ve considered this and looked up the process. In order to do this, I have to file a report with my local police and obtain a bilingual police report (something that could take substantial time in the small city I live in). I then have to report it to the embassy and apply for a temporary passport. They then have to conduct an investigation into the situation before they will issue my temporary passport. All this would take time that I do not have. And the nail in the coffin is that I cannot apply for a temporary OR replacement passport because the embassy has my birth certificate in the file with my new passport, and this is required with any application in order to prove my citizenship.
My personal comments: Firstly, I cannot understand how something so crucial to living overseas as a passport can be misplaced at an embassy office for over a week. Even if the parcel was delivered to the “Immigration” section, it should not take over a week for someone to forward it to the correct, “Consular” section. Passport are crucial documents to those living in foreign countries, and it is the embassy’s job to deal with passports every day – it is unacceptable for one to become so “lost” in their offices.
Secondly, I find it frustrating that no embassy staff members followed up to inquire when they did not receive my old passport within the 3 to 5 day window they tell everyone the mail system should take. I did not follow up until it had been approximately 10 days (5 days to travel there and 5 days to travel back) because that was the longest I should have had to wait to receive it back here, according to them. Had they simply followed up, nearly a week of time could have been saved (and yes, I am aware that the embassy is a busy place and they have work to do, but again, feel that it is completely unacceptable to hold such a hands-off, unconscientious attitude towards people’s passports).
Finally, I have found several of these phone calls to be not only unhelpful, but also berating. I will admit to being quite frustrated and short with the employee on the phone, but I do not believe I deserved to be spoken to in the manner in which I was. Some degree of customer service should be upheld, and solutions provided, rather than just repeatedly reminding me that it was all my own fault because the parcel was not addressed properly.
Update as of Saturday evening: I have talked with my employers and husband and we have decided that I am not going to trust the mail system to return my passport to me after all this, but instead will travel to Beijing to pick it up in person. I plan to start calling the embassy early Monday morning to try to get confirmation that they have retrieved my passport and that all documents are ready for pick up (because although the employee I spoke to on Friday told me this would happen, she happens to not work on Monday, so I don’t know if the work will actually get accomplished unless I remind someone). I want to wait for this confirmation before making any plans to travel there because I am still confused as to how they can know that my passport is in an office that was locked and that they did not have access to.
If and when I have it confirmed, then my husband and I will purchase train tickets for Monday afternoon or evening (hopefully I can board the train using only a photocopy of my passport) so that we can be at the embassy on Tuesday morning when they open (because again, the office is only open from 8:30 to 11:00am during the week).
LESSONS: A few lessons can be taken from this ordeal (and yes, I feel justified in calling it an ordeal).
Firstly, if you use the mail service, call and inquire about the status of your passport every day after you send it to be sure that they receive it and so that if they do not, you can immediately begin tracing the parcel.
Secondly, if you use the mail service, be sure the address is written correctly and completely (although again, if you don’t read or write characters, I’m not sure how you can confirm this).
Finally, always do everything in person – do not use the mail service (not because the service didn’t do their job, but because you are then without your passport for at least several days).