US embassy London – hints and tips
This past Thursday, we made the trip to the US embassy in London to renew our daughter’s American passport. For children under the age of 16, you must renew in person. We’ve done this trip several times since our eldest was born in 2001. We’ve registered births, applied for passports and social security cards and renewed passports. Each time we seem to have done it differently due to our own home location and the changing rules and regulations of the embassy.
Thanks to some very helpful suggestions on the Facebook group ‘American Ex-pat women in the UK’, we ended up driving into London and parking at Q-Park just by Marble Arch. One of the women from the American Ex-pat FB group told me she had done that with her family and it worked out fine. I was a bit nervous because I had never driven into London before – we’d always taken the train in – but because the embassy changed their appointment times and limited them to early morning appointments, we decided this was the best way to do it. Allow plenty of time because traffic can be slow moving in London. Cost for all day parking is from £30 but you can park for only a few hours too.
Other suggestions were to drive or train it up the day before and stay in a cheap hotel. We did investigate this and there is a Premier Inn in Richmond near the train station, but we still would have had to pay for car parking all day AND we would have had the added cost of the hotel and meals. With a family of 5, eating out can be an expensive affair even at a cheap restaurant! But, that would be a good option for some and there are plenty of Travel Lodges and Premier Inns on the outskirts of London. We found a lovely hotel in Richmond with a pool which we considered. We also debated about going up the morning before and spending the day at Chessington and then staying overnight in Richmond and then training it in the following morning. If we go during the summer holidays next time, we might do this option!
Here are some tips that might help you:
- Book your appointment time in advance because they get booked up quickly – link is below (they are not open on American or British holidays)
- Don’t forget to print out your booked appointment confirmation and bring it with you
- Appointment times are only in the morning before 10am so if you do not live in London, you need to plan your trip carefully
- Arrive at least half an hour before your appointment time because there is a line to get in to the embassy
- They do not allow mobile phones OR car keys into the embassy and you cannot leave them at the entrance **UPDATED** Oct 2014 – They now allow mobile phones. No photos, but you can bring in your phone.
- You can store mobile phones AND car keys at Gould’s Pharmacy just up the road from the embassy (cost is £3) **UPDATED** Oct 2014 – They now have onsite lockers at the embassy
- You can also get passport photos done at this pharmacy as well but I advise you get them done beforehand – less stressful!
- You will need to purchase a post bag and fill in details at the front desk. This costs around £14.00 and you pay by card – no cash is allowed.
- You will also get your ticket at this front desk so don’t go up the stairs first otherwise you’ll just have to go back down to the desk
- Don’t forget snacks and water for the kids (they do sell snacks inside the embassy but there is a limited choice)
- Don’t forget your passports – both parents need to show their passports as proof of identity
- There is a small play area for children which is very helpful
- Don’t forget your child’s birth certificate and their passport and social security card (if it is a renewal)
- American Express and Mastercard are NOT accepted forms of payment, visa debit cards are OK, other forms of payment are on their website-see below
- Age progression photos – do not forget these (details are on the embassy website), you can print out digital ones or use prints. We put ours on 4 sheets of paper, two photos per year with the age and year written underneath
- *NEW* since we went: No bank security keys are allowed in. It’s those Pin generators you use for logging into your online banking that you insert your card into and it generates a pin which you input online when logging in.
- *NEW* if you need to book multiple kids in, then you need to make separate appointments for each. You can book them back to back. At the end of the first booking there is an option to book another appointment. You have to have paperwork for each person so you need to individually register them. In order to even get in line out front, you have to have paperwork with each person’s name. Then, once inside, they call you up and they do them all at the same time.
- *NEW* if driving into London, make sure you purchase your pass for entering the city under the Congestion Charging Order. For more info see https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/congestion-charge We did not know that we had to pre-pay for this scheme and got hit with a £65 penalty fee a few weeks afterwards.
And here is the link to the appointment booking, forms and information for children under 16 http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/passports/under16.html.
There are several ways to do the passport photos. We got them done locally at a photo studio. Only took 10 mins and cost £12 for 4. Thanks to the ladies on the Facebook group, here are some links to DIY passport photos.
And for those getting them done in the US www.mypassportphotos.com $2
And here is a place recommended by a Facebook group for American passport photos www.snappysnaps.co.uk. Check if there is one in your area. Unfortunately, there isn’t one near us.
We were processed quite quickly once we got in and got our ticket. We got there at 7:40am, were in the embassy by 8:25am (only a 30 minute wait outside) and done and out by 10:30am. We then had the rest of the day to spend in London doing the museums and shopping. In the past, we’ve done the Science Museum, Natural History, V&A Museum of Childhood, Tate Modern and this time we went for the British Museum. We only saw a tiny part of it as that was all the children were up for after being up and travelling so early. It’s great though, I just love all the museums in London – they are so well kept and have wonderful activities for the children. We also went to Covent Garden to see all the street performers and the market. It’s so lovely there! It was absolutely freezing cold though so we kept having to stop in at various stores to warm up. We visited Liberty which took my breathe away and had lunch at this fabulous Italian bistro. It was full of Italians which is always a great sign that the food is going to be authentic and delicious, which it was!
We headed back at 3:30 and got stuck in some very slow moving traffic. Took us nearly 4 hours to get back (2 on the way there) so next time we might leave an hour earlier and stop off in Croydon at the enormous TK Maxx and John Lewis at Home stores. There is also a McDonald’s with a large indoor play area which we stopped off at for bathroom breaks. It’s ideal for children after they’ve been cooped up in a car and forced to walk the streets of London for hours on end!
Of course, if you live in London then you already know all this and can get to the embassy by tube or bus! Good luck everyone and if you have any other tips that you’ve discovered, please post here on this blog.