By: Philip ('03) & Ayelet ('06) Trauring
the average waiting time to get an appointment at the U.S. consulate in Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem is approximately 4-5 months
We had a baby at the end of August and we wanted to share some of our experiences in getting documentation for our baby, which we just finished.
Our baby was born in Hadassah Ein Kerem. Some people scared us about having to register months before the baby was born at the hospital. Truthfully we registered just a few weeks before the baby was born and everything was fine.
When the baby was born one of us had to go up to the admissions desk on the entrance floor and they gave us the temporary birth certificate. If you use a private doctor, this is when you pay (at least at Hadassah).
Now, we obviously needed Israeli and US documents. At this point we booked an appointment at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv online. Truthfully we only booked it in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem (where we live) because there was an appointment available a week earlier, but in the end our experience in Tel Aviv was so much better than what we've seen in Jerusalem, we recommend booking in Tel Aviv in any case. Keep in mind you need to do this quickly, as there are generally no appointments less that a month and a half out and you should really try to get an early appointment.
Meanwhile, our appointment wasn't for another 6 weeks in Tel Aviv, so we focused on getting the Israeli documents. I headed over to the Gilo branch of the Misrad Hapnim, which we had heard was a lot less crowded. That's certainly true in comparison to the main Jerusalem branch downtown. There are only about 20 seats inside, and two booths. Basically, we were never more than 20 numbers behind there.
Basically if you drive down the main street of Gilo, there's an outdoor mall with a Bank Hapoalim on the corner, and the Misrad Hapnim is on the second floor. There's a small parking lot in the back. If you walk past the post office and take the stairs up and keep going in that direction, you'll see the security guard outside the door...
I came with my TZ and my wife's TZ, as well as the temporary birth certificate. My wife was not present, and did not have to be. It was less than two weeks after the birth and they said it was too early, as the baby was not yet entered into the system, so they would need to take the info and mail us the certificate after the baby showed up in the system. They took the white address slips from our TZs and the temporary birth certificate, and told me they'd mail us the permanent certificate and the new address slips, which they did about a week or two later. Basically I can't give an exact amount of time because the chagim intervened, but I think under normal circumstances (not chagim and at least two weeks after the birth) it would probably be a week. I didn't ask to come back to pick up the items, but that might have been possible.
Once we got the new birth certificate, we returned to the Gilo office together (after the chagim) and ordered a passport. For this they needed the new birth certificate, a form filled out there and two photographs. I also think there was a fee we had to pay, something around 75 shekels. We asked if we could pick up the passport instead of having it mailed to us, and they said no problem and told us to come back 2 days later and it would be waiting for us (we still needed to wait in line to get it, but better than waiting for the mail).
Speaking of photographs, we had photos done for both the US and Israeli passports at the same time at our local photo shop. They just laid our baby on the counter with a few sheets of white paper under her (you need a white background), took the pics with a digital camera and printed up both sizes for us. They told us that Israel requires that both ears be visible. I've heard elsewhere that the US requires the eyes to be open. Not actually so easy to get all of that done with a squirming baby, but eventually we got a good picture.
Before our appointment in TA we checked out the requirements for what we needed - Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Passport and Social Security Number. We downloaded the forms from the web site and filled them all out in advance. Let me just note that you can't request a Social Security number before you get the other two (Birth Report and Passport) so don't bother with the SS forms (yet).
Other than the forms you need to bring your marriage certificate and the baby's birth certificate, with translations into English for anything in Hebrew. In our case we got married in the US, so we only needed to translate the birth certificate. I actually scanned in the Hebrew certificate and entered the translations on the scanned copy and printed out what essentially looked like a bilingual birth certificate. Having all of this ready in advance made things very easy once we got there. Another couple that showed up around the same time had no forms filled out and no translations and they made them leave the line to go fill everything out. Also, my understanding is they charge for any photocopies you make there, so bring copies of everything.
In addition, you need to bring your passports and copies of your passports (to give them), to prove your US citizenship. Note that all three of you, the baby and both parents, need to be present for all of this. If both parents were born US citizens then you basically just need your passports. If one of you was not born a citizen, or is not a citizen, then things are more complicated. You will need to show residency in the US (at least 5 years continuously I believe, but check). You can probably use things like a driver's license, tax returns, pay stubs, etc. to show residency. This is not something I know a lot about as both of us were US citizens. I had brought our birth certificates and some additional documents just in case, but all they needed was the photocopy I made of our passports and drivers licenses (they didn't request the driver's licenses but they were on the same photocopies, so I don't know if they needed them or not).
We previously had dealings with the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, and if any of you have been there you've probably come away either extremely disappointed or extremely angry, or most likely both. The consulate guards outside are not only not useful, they are antagonistic. It usually seems they are actively trying to make your life harder. They won't help you, won't admit to any fact that might be helpful to you, and won't suggest things that might be helpful for you. Add to that it's location in East Jerusalem, and it's not a place you look forward to having to go. For those who need to go there, you should know there is a fairly inexpensive parking lot right across the street from it, so if you're worried about parking, don't be. Also, always book the earliest appointment you can get, as they take people in order of their appointments, and people with later appointments just get pushed back further and further. I believe their first appointment is at 8:15am. American Citizen Services in Jerusalem is also, for some reason, closed on Wednesdays.
Back to Tel Aviv. Let me just say that there are no less than three parking lots across the street and down the block from the embassy, so although it might be because we were there after beach season, there was no real problem getting parking. You can also park a few blocks down under the Opera Tower if you want.
We had the earliest appointment we saw online, 8:30am. We got to Tel Aviv at 7:30am, since our experience from Jerusalem had shown us that getting there an hour before they opened up usually only got you mostly toward the front of the line. This was not the case in TA. First, when we got there there was a long line - of Israelis trying to get visas. There was a second line for Americans, which was empty. An anglo guard there told us we were way too early, especially with a baby, and that we should go get coffee or something and return around 8am. We got coffee across the street and returned at 8am, where the guard did a quick security check (swiped one of those pads that gets examined for explosives traces) and then brought us in past the long line if Israelis and into the Embassy. From there we walked into the American Citizen Services office to find it empty except for 5 people waiting. It turns out they were all together and had appointments at 8:15am. Not sure how they got those appointments. At 8:30am they started calling names of people who had 8:30am appointments. They called out 3-4 names of people other than us, none of whom were there, and then they called our name.
Another note on security. The Tel Aviv embassy has posted a page on their web site about how you basically can't bring in anything other than your paperwork. No watches, no rings, no cell phones, no wallets, no metal objects etc. They basically tell you to leave anything like this at home, in your car or to store they temporarily in a storage business up the block. It's kind of funny, a business set up just because the embassy got so strict on what could be brought in. Let me just say that it's not quite as strict as they make it out to be. We were worried about how to bring in the baby since we assumed a carriage was not possible, so we brought the baby in a baby carrier. When we were inside, however, another couple came in with a carriage, with all it's attachments. I also went in with my wallet which I forgot to leave in the car, and they didn't say a thing (they list wallets as something you can't bring in). I've also seen plenty of people in there with watches and some jewelry. Also, to be clear, you can for sure bring your car keys inside - you don't need to store them in the storage facility. I'm guessing, however, that they would be strict on cell phones not being allowed in. Actually that brings up your phone option - there is a telecard-payphone in the waiting room of ACS, so if you think you'll need to make calls bring a telecard (for those who arrived in Israel after the heyday of the telecard, these are pre-paid cards for phones that you can usually get in any post office). One other amenity in the ACS office is a Mei Eden water cooler. There's also posters advertising a coffee shop elsewhere in the building, but I never looked for it.
Unlike the Jerusalem Consulate, at least in our experience, they did not check if we had an appointment (or rather believed us when we said we did) before letting us inside to go to the ACS office. There were in fact several people there without appointments trying to get help, with varying degrees of success. In cases of emergencies, like a woman who had had her passport and wallet stolen and was due to leave back to the US in a week, they helped her out. In the case a man who was looking to get passports for his kids, they made him leave and make an appointment. At least you have a chance there to plead your case though, as in Jerusalem they won't even let you inside without an appointment.
The actually process once we were at the counter was pretty easy. Since we had already filled out the forms and I had copies of our passports and the baby's birth certificate with translation, we basically had nothing else to do. The clerk filled out a fee form and directed us to go to the cashier booth and pay ($147 total - $30 for passport execution, $40 for passport issuance for a minor, $12 for 'passport surcharge' whatever that is, and $65 for the report of birth abroad) and then return. We paid with a credit card (they accept US and some Int'l credit cards, but I've heard not all Israeli ones) and returned to the booth. We gave him the receipt and told him that we were planning on traveling in a couple of weeks, and would appreciate it if he could expedite it and if we could come to pick it up when it was ready. He said they could enter everything into the computer while we waited. After that was done (under half an hour) we were called to another booth, where the consular officer made us swear to the truth of what we had written, has us sign the forms (you don't sign them in advance as it needs to be done in front of the consular officer) and show her the baby. Once that was done, she told us the documents would probably be ready in a week and a half, and that they would call us and we could come and pick them up at that time. We walked out of the embassy by 9:30am.
A week later we got a call from the embassy that the documents were ready. I drove back to Tel Aviv the next morning. This time security did ask if I had an appointment and I told them I was picking up a passport and showed them the receipt from the previous week. I went in straight to the cashier in ACS (station 1) and told her I had a passport waiting. She asked for whom, I told her my daughter's name and she went and got the envelope with her Consular Report of Birth Abroad and her Passport, and asked for an ID and then gave me the envelope.
At this point I walked around the corner to the Federal Benefits desks (stations 6 and 7) to file an application for her Social Security number. I had the form (Form SS-5) already filled out, and after waiting in line for a bit (they actually don't open up the Federal Benefits desk until 9am and were a bit late doing so that day) I gave them the form and the new birth report and passport for my daughter and my passport as well. She made some copies of what she needed (no charge) and told me it would take up to six months to get the social security card for my daughter. No charges for this. That's it.