Expat Life: A Birth Abroad and Other Paperwork

Getting a child born abroad a passport involves a lot of paperwork.  But in the end it is more complicated than it looks.  Photo copyright dpa / picture alliance

Getting a child born abroad a passport involves a lot of paperwork. But in the end it is more complicated than it looks. Photo copyright dpa / picture alliance

It took us almost a year.  I guess you could call us procrastinators, but in the end, it turned out to be a good idea.  When it comes to doing paperwork and interacting with the German authorities, timeliness can be very important.  But the American authorities are a little bit more relaxed, and it didn’t matter that we’d taken over a year to get around to making an appointment.  But the rumor that the Germans love their paperwork might not be so unique.  The Americans seem to love it just as much.  At least when it comes to citzenship.

What did it take us a year to do?  To report our daughter’s birth to the US Consulate and to apply to the US citizenship that she is eligible through my own US citizenship.  For all the other expat parents to-be and just-became out there looking for information on the process, this was our experience.  And I have good news: as long as you show up with all the appropriate papers, it is a pretty painless process.  Whew.  Bureaucratic hurdle number 3,733 managed.

Gathering the paperwork

When it comes to reporting a child’s birth abroad to the US Consulate, the herding of paperwork is the most stressful part.  We simultaneously did the Report of Birth Abroad, a Passport Application, and a Social Security Card Application.  I started with the forms that needed to be filled out for each service, all in all under 10 pages of simple information, none of which I had to go through any trouble to look up.  Whew.  Step one was easy.  Step two involved gathering all the extras, and that is where things got a bit more complex.

Baby’s first passport

For this service, we needed my daughter’s birth certificate, both parents’ passports (it is important that both mother and father come to the appointment if possible, lest you be forced to fill out even more paperwork–shudder), our application form, and a passport photo.

The problems?  It is a pain to get a baby to sit still for a passport photo.  I witnessed a friend waste 12 euros trying to do it in a diy photo booth, and so we went to a photographer.  It costs quite a bit more, but it keeps things simple.  And the pluses? When we had gotten my daughter’s German birth certificate, we had also order two copies of a special international birth certificate so that we could use it to report her birth without needing to pay for an extra translation.  It turned out that one copy would have sufficed, as the US Consulate makes copies of the original and then returns it to you.  (Mind you, these details are all specific to the Frankfurt am Main US Consulate, and you need to be sure to check with your local consulate to be sure that they don’t require anything different.)

Turns out a first-time passport application is pretty easy.  It is the Report of Birth Abroad where things get complicated.

Reporting an American birth abroad

Whoa.  As luck would have it, some of the documents needed for this application mirrored those needed for the passport application.  Both parents need to bring their passports, and you need a copy of your child’s birth certificate.  But you also need proof of the relationship between the US citizen and the child (the child’s birth certificate with both parent’s name is first choice), a marriage certificate if the parents are married (and if the certificate isn’t in German, you’ll need to have it translated, cha-ching!), aaand a whole bunch of other stuff that you can read about in detail here.  If you aren’t married or one parent isn’t going to be present at the appointment, they make things even harder (as if managing this stuff alone isn’t hard enough!).

The most interesting challenge was proving that I (or whichever parent is a US citizen) had actually lived in the United States for long enough to be allowed to transfer citizenship to my daughter.  Funny thing about this?  It was only written once in really small print, and not on the main info page for reporting a birth abroad.  If I hadn’t seen it, and it would have been very easy to miss, I would have been missing a crucial piece of our application.  I like to imagine that an interview would do the trick as well, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  How could I prove that I had lived in America from the age of 0 to 23?  It is harder than you think, but it turned out a college transcript will do it.  (I also saw people waiting in line with folders full of pictures.)  Point: read all the fine print.  Then read it again.

Social security

This was the easiest of the three.  One short form, and a quick visit to a desk where a friendly woman photo-copied my American driver’s license and daughter’s birth certificate.  Thank goodness some part of it all was simple.

 Done and done

After a little under two hours we were out of the consulate and on the train heading home.  I had been so worried about having all the right paperwork (in Frankfurt you even need to bring a special self-addressed envelope for them to use to mail you the passport, information which is also very well hidden on the consulate website), that I found myself still going over my checklist in my head after the appointment.  The best advice?  Plan ahead.  Get all of the paperwork ready before you even make your appointment.  Bring a lot of patience.  And remember, no cell phones allowed inside the consulate.  If you don’t want to have to hide it in a bush around the corner, leave it at home.

Did you have children outside of your birth country?  What was the process of registering their citizenship like?


By | 2017-03-21T23:17:17+00:00 May 7th, 2013|Click Clack Gorilla, General, German Culture|2 Comments

About the Author:

Nicolette Stewart is a freelance writer based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She discusses books at www.bookpunks.com and life in Germany and tiny houses at www.clickclackgorilla.com. Find her on Twitter @bookpunks


  1. Annabelle May 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Just wrote about our experience here http://www.thepiripirilexicon.com/2013/05/a-day-at-portuguese-consulate-part-2.html
    Our daughter is not yet registered in Portugal because the authorities are being difficult!!

  2. ebe May 18, 2013 at 9:41 am

    While the thought of having a baby in Germany opens up a world of possibilities, just the thought of the paperwork makes us cringe. Thanks for the post! It’s good to get an expat’s experience and know that it IS possible.

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