Death by papercut

For this I am thankful: whatever we neglect to take with us to our first post, whatever need we miscalculate, it’s not a big deal. Chances are very good we can acquire whatever we need in Ciudad Juárez, and if we can’t find it in CDJ El Paso is right there. Our bank has several branches in El Paso. The pharmacies where we fill our prescriptions are there, too. So many of the details of everyday life that most foreign service families have to arrange in advance of a move are non-issues for us.

But the border does pose a few bureaucratic challenges that we wouldn’t need to worry about at other posts, and a few of those are making me crazy today.

One thing we’ve heard repeatedly from folks already posted in CDJ is that it’s pretty much essential to have all of our family members enrolled in something called “Global Entry,” which allows pre-screened, trusted travelers to enter the U.S. and cross the border with minimal fuss. If we all get Global Entry passes, we can also apply for a pass for our car, which will allow us to use a faster lane at border crossings (that program is called SENTRI). This is actually required by the consulate if kids go to school in El Paso. Our kids are most likely going to attend school in CDJ, but I have a feeling it would only take a few non-expedited trips across the border to make us crazy, so we are planning to sign up.

Here’s where it gets sticky. I realize that it would have made infinite sense to get passports lined up for the kids before we started this crazy journey, but we did not. And in fact, it turns out Andrés’ passport is expired and is just beyond the mark at which he can just renew by mail.

So before we can even start the Global Entry process (which requires applications, fees, and interviews for each family member) we have to get passports for everyone. But Andrés is in training all day, and every post office around here has a waiting list for Saturday passport appointments stretching out beyond the time we’ll be in the DC area. I could take the kids for passports without Andrés on a weekday after school, but he’d have to sign and have notarized a form saying it’s OK for me to do that – and since he needs to go in, too, there just doesn’t seem to be much point in taking them in without him.

There is a passport office at Andrés’ training center but it keeps very odd hours. It’s open one day a week for limited hours, punctuated by a lunch break during which it closes entirely. But next week we will just have to get the kids out of school, head for the Foreign Service Institute, and meet Andrés during his lunch hour. And hope that everyone else is not also there during their lunch hour. And that the passport office’s lunch break and Andrés’ lunch hour are not at the exact same time.

Assuming we get the passport applications in, we then wait for our passports, then apply for Global Entry, try to get our Global Entry interviews scheduled before we leave the DC area (around kids’ school schedules and Andrés’ training schedule), and apply for SENTRI. We’ve been told we should try right now to get an inspection scheduled for our car in El Paso because that’s required before we can use the SENTRI lane. And apparently it can take months to get an appointment. Have yet to find out if they’ll schedule an appointment for a family of non-passport-holders who haven’t even applied for Global Entry yet.

But there are further wrinkles still . . . right now the car is in my name. I was in Lubbock visiting family when I bought it and so the title is in my name. We never thought that would be a big deal. Until now. Apparently the State Department won’t ship a car that’s not in the FSO’s name. I’ll be on the travel orders, but that won’t do. The title has to be in his name, at least jointly. In order to accomplish that, we’ll need to go through Texas’ DMV. I’m incredibly grateful to a wonderfully helpful woman I spoke to at TX DMV who walked me through exactly how to re-title the car in either Andrés’ name or both of our names and emailed me all the right forms. It will involve filling out and notarizing said forms and paying some fees. And waiting. And having new title and new plates sent to my parents’ address in Lubbock and then on to us . . . but in the meantime in order to start the SENTRI process they need our registration and title information. Which will have to change if we ship the car.

Of course we could always drive. In fact, that is what’s generally encouraged, it seems, for folks posted to CDJ. But really? Five days in the car? I’m not feeling the love, even if State Department is paying the bills.

So that’s my bureaucratic frustration of the day. And I don’t even like cars. If I could live on my bike I would. But a car is an absolute necessity in CDJ, given that public transit is off-limits. And despite the fact that we’re hoping to live on the CDJ side as much as possible, I have to believe that the folks who are there and living this life and say the Global Entry and SENTRI stuff is essential aren’t just messing with us. I’ll take a deep breath and start filling out those title forms.

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