I've had my passport since November 2010, when I had to do a rush-renewal in Philadelphia ahead of an unforeseen trip. It's technically good until late 2020, so I planned on renewing my passport after electing a new president (fingers crossed).
I had forgotten that many countries won't let you enter if your passport isn't valid for at least 6 more months. I'm also up to extend my residence permit later this year. My roommate David warned me that the Ausländerbehörde may want my passport to be valid for longer when issuing a new permit. How much time left they want you to have isn't clear, but all these factors combined made me decide to go ahead and get the new passport.
I thought it might be useful for other people if I write down my experience renewing my passport, since this seems to be a pretty common topic in the Americans in Berlin Facebook group.
I booked my appointment pretty far in advance: in mid-June, I was able to choose from a good selection of dates and times over the summer. My appointment was on Monday August 19th, 2019 to give myself a few weeks to get it back before some planned travel in September. I knew it's pretty fast turnaround, but I was not expecting to get an email on Tuesday August 27th that my passport was ready to be mailed out. In the end, it only took 10 days: my passport arrived on Wednesday August 28, 2019!
Please double-check the info below, since things can change! For example, the U.S. embassy building (on Clayallee) in Berlin is being renovated in 2019, and for the early part of the year, they didn't have any in-person appointments there.
Renewing your U.S. passport while living abroad
In the U.S. you can usually just go to a post office, do it by mail, or if it's urgent, use a passport expediting service.
If you live outside the U.S., the first thing to check is the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate for the country you live in, specifically the section called U.S. citizen services. For Germany, that's here: https://de.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/
There are pretty detailed instructions, but some parts can be confusing and unclear if you don't click through all the different parts. For example, there is no expedited service outside the United States. Regular renewal is already pretty fricking fast!
If you fulfill all the criteria listed, you can renew by mail: https://de.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/passports/renewing-an-adult-passport/
Paying for your passport renewal
Renewing by mail requires that you make payment for your passport using a cashier's check drawn on an American bank or a Bank Check or Counter Check, specifically a "Bank check issued by a German bank in dollars drawn on a U.S. bank". It's possible to get the latter, but you'll probably have to speak German pretty well and stick to your guns when you go to your local bank branch. (Click on the Payment heading in the link above for more details).
If you go in-person to renew, there are more payment options available, like cash or credit cards. That means many U.S. citizens living in Germany end up going in-person to renew. The embassy in Berlin is responsible for those of us living in northern and eastern Germany:
Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.
If you live in those regions and can't get an appointment in the time frame needed, the Frankfurt office does take walk-ins on certain days and at limited times, if you are doing a simple renewal using DS-82.
Why don't they take credit cards when renewing by mail? According to someone who asked the embassy, some evil people were reversing the charges after getting their passports.
How I renewed my passport in person in Berlin
- The first thing I did was make sure I would be eligible to renew using DS-82, which thankfully I am.
- I double-checked the instructions for passport renewal in Berlin (U.S. Citizen Services at the Berlin Embassy, click on "Passport" heading)
- I booked an appointment in Berlin. Don't forget to save/print a copy of the confirmation page! I got an email with instructions one day after booking the appointment.
- I took a photo of myself and printed it at the photo machine at Rossmann.
- Note: there are specific photo requirements. For example, it needs to be 2" x 2" (5cm x 5cm) which is NOT the standard European passport photo size.
- You can use an online tool like Passport Photo App to help size and crop your digital photo, so your head and eyes are in the right zones. I ended up using Nic Myer's Photoshop passport photo template in Pixelmator to tweak mine.
- I went to a nearby Späti and Deutsche Post service point to buy the DHL Express Easy Envelope (that's what they use to send your passport back to you in the mail).
- It cost 13,50 Euros
- Write down the tracking number on the envelope
- Where's your nearest Deutsche Post? Here's the outlet / DHL Paketshop finder.
- I filled out and printed the DS-82 form using State Department's online passport form tool. This is required, it has a fancy unique bar code and everything.
- I scanned (and printed out a black and white copy) of my current passport to bring with me, as well as the actual passport.
- I brought my wallet with a couple credit cards to pay, but not an EC card. You can also bring cash in Euros or US dollars, but they prefer Euros.
Going to the U.S. embassy in Berlin for my passport renewal appointment
- Make sure you're going to the right location! While the fancy embassy location is at Brandenburg Gate (you may have been to a protest or two there, or as a tourist), consular and citizens services are out on Clayallee in Dahlem near the Freie Universität. Lucky for me, the U3 runs right out there to U Oskar-Helene-Heim.
- Don't bring lots of stuff. I saw lots of people with luggage, backpacks, large purses get sent away. One group had driven there, so they could go put their bags in the car. Another couple had one person wait outside with their hiking (!) backpacks.
- U.S. citizens can bring mobile phones. I couldn't take it in with me, but the security guards had limited storage cubbies where they kept my iPhone, my keys (I had an electronic key transponder on it), and a water bottle.
- Get in line and check in with the friendly security guard. They had a list of everyone with an appointment that day, so everyone who arrived showed their appointment confirmation page and passport. They took us through security in small groups, according to our appointment time.
I was about 15 minutes early to my 11:15 appointment. I didn't have to wait long in the security line, they let me in early, I waited a little bit for someone to take all my documents and process them, and then I paid at a separate window. I was completely finished by the time 11:15 rolled around!
I think that covers the experience. It actually went more smoothly than I expected. I had planned things out a few months in advance, so I didn't need a last-minute appointment or have to take a trip to Frankfurt. Sound off in the comments if you have tips or helpful experiences to share!