2 July 2013

How To Have Your Baby Abroad...and still get the tax break.

Yesterday our foreign-born baby completed the last step in becoming an official American. Or really, in becoming our official American tax break. Charlotte finally got her Social Security number. And it only took 3 1/2 years.

Happy Retirement, dear Charlotte.

Someone really should write a manual on how to navigate the logistics of having a baby abroad, and then transporting said baby across foreign borders in less than 3 weeks.

The moment I went into labor in South Africa, Adam started the paperwork. In order to take our newborn back to Congo we needed a South African birth certificate, American Consular Report of Birth Abroad, passport, plane ticket and visa. In that order. The one thing you're not given and do not need is a Social Security number. So we skipped it.

The day after Charlotte was born, Adam headed to a Cape Town administrative office, which he still refers to as the "DMV on steroids." There he smooth talked some poor lady into giving him a hand-written South African birth certificate instead of waiting weeks for a proper one.  Meanwhile back at the hospital, I was having an equally bizarre experience and getting my laser boob treatments. Remember that one

The next day instead of taking our newborn home, we took her straight to the American embassy where I kid you not, they had a velvet rope around a red-carpeted section just for Americans. They obviously knew we were coming.

The diplomats here were the first folks to gush over our baby and we swore with our right hands that we were her parents. And then spent the next hour writing down every country we'd ever visited, listing all entry and exit dates, and trying to prove we're good American citizens. A new mother's dream.

Hospital to Embassy. Otherwise known as shakily driving your first-born in a foreign country on the "wrong" side of the road.

A little while later we were given her Consular Report of Birth Abroad with which we could apply for her passport.  Now. Talk to anyone who's ever tried to take a passport photo of a baby that is essentially still a fetus, and they'll tell you it's nearly impossible. And so we begged the kind man at the camera store to break federal law and Photoshop our newborn's passport pic until it met all the regulations. (Eyes looking directly at the camera, head unsupported, solid white background, no shadows, etc.)

He still told us it might not pass the passport photo test because "American officials are the worst."

There are about 50 more attempts where these came from.

Fortunately when applying for a passport outside the US, the State Department gets it back to you toute de suite. They probably assume you're a study abroad student, lost your passport at a bar, and it's an extreme emergency. Never mind you're only 3 days old.

So exactly one week after Charlotte was born, we had a quickie passport from the United States. (We would find out 17 months later, this is not the case when applying for a newborn's passport after they're born within the United States. Thanks Annaïs.)

Interesting fact for cutting red tape: Did you know you don't need a Social Security number to get a passport? Just enter all zeros, 000-00-0000. 

Even though we technically had 18 years to apply for Charlotte's SSN, we decided it was time for her to pull her own American weight and give us the tax break. So last week we spent the better part of the morning at the Social Security Administration chatting with a kind agent on whom I forced a Mama Congo business card.  

(Hello and thank you if you're reading, to the nice worker who pretended to be interested in this blog.)

Ready to give her passport to the Social Security man in the window.

Voila. Only 3 1/2 years later we have an official American baby. And the tax break to prove it.

Did you have your baby abroad? Is this red tape adventure similar to your experience? 

Update: After going through all this, we learned as Americans abroad, we don't actually get a tax benefit for our children. C'est la expat vie.


  1. Our baby was born on December 1st. Unlike you, we didn't get going on all the paperwork until a few weeks afterwards. When we tried to make an appointment at the embassy, we discovered there were no appointments left in December and they were not taking appointments in January, so we would have to wait till February. On the first business day in February there we were with all our paperwork. Including the ridiculous "looking-straight-at-the-camera-with-eyes-open-and-with-no-part-of-any-other-person-in-the-photo" passport picture. (We asked the photographer if we couldn't lay her down on a white sheet and take the photo that way. Denied.) After our baby was recognized as a US citizen, we were told to return two weeks later for the US passport. Unfortunately, the Consular Report was not yet available at that time. Two more weeks later (we are well into March now), and we finally had the Consular Report and the passport in hand.

    But that is only half the story. Without a Colombian visa, our baby could not leave the country. In order to acquire the visa, we had to provide a passport, evidence that we were financially responsible for her, a marriage certificate, an authorized statement of our promise to take her when we leave the country, etc. Little did we know that all of this had to be done within 90 days of her birth (the Office of Exterior Relations had told us otherwise over the phone). To rectify this wrongdoing we had to file a 20-page document admitting guilt, pay a hefty fine, and re-apply for the visa. But, finally, at the ripe old age of five months, our baby was a legal US citizen as well as legally registered with the state of Colombia and free to leave at will (or the will of her parents).

    Reading your story, I was truly amazed at how quickly you were able to get all your paperwork done. Impressive!

    1. Wow! What a process! I love hearing other mom's experiences with this. Thank you for sharing.

      I completely forgot about the original marriage certificate part. Luckily, we were tipped off to that, so we had it. There really should be a parent's guide for every country's requirements. Our second daughter was born in the US and taking her back to Congo in 3 weeks was just as hard...

    2. Elizabeth! My jaw really dropped when you got to the part about the 20-page document admitting guilt. Holy!

  2. We just had to get Jal's passport renewed when I realized we were leaving in a week and it had expired (good thing I remembered)....It took six long hours of sitting in the embassy in London, with two very very bored kids (toys being part of the long list of things you can't bring in!!?) Certainly the worst embassy experience we've had. The best being the time my passport expired in the Maldives and the State Department kindly flew in my own special passport official in a white linen suit. He met me in a cafe and gave me a new passport while drinking fresh mango juice. (Maldives being one of the few countries in the world with no American embassy).

    1. I'm just imagining that passport official in a white linen suit...and the contrast to the thought of two children + six hours + a no toys rule is almost unbearable. Hats off, Lara.

  3. Oh goodness - the newborn passport photos are too much. Our baby was born in Belgium - and has an equally hilarious baby photo in her passport. We had ALL kinds of hiccups in our process: American mother+Canadian father = all kinds of nonsense when it came time to get baby's citizenship in order.
    I've just discovered your blog (via Joanna Goddard's Mother's Around the World series) - and have spent the past few hours pouring through your archives. I love your adventure - it makes me want to pick up and move abroad again. Thank you for sharing your world with us. It's beautiful.


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