Lifestyle & Culture

Beth Hoke in Passport Purgatory: ‘I feel naked without it, especially when crossing borders’


It’s been 7 days, 1 hour and 23 minutes since I dropped my passport into an envelope addressed to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt. I feel naked. I feel off-kilter.


I feel like I’ve lost my mooring.


My passport has taken me through Germany, the Netherlands, Croatia, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Oman, the UAE, Morocco, and Spain since I left the United States in November of 2016.

I have been on the road housesitting, writing, and teaching English while exploring Europe and popping in and out of Africa and the Middle East. My main objective is to make sure I am out of the Schengen Zone for 90 days out of every 180 days so that I can legally stay in Europe near my daughters while they are living over here.

But I was down to just three blank pages in my U.S. passport, and many countries require there to be two or more to gain admittance.


So I filled out and printed the application, went to a photo studio for 2-inch by 2-inch photos, bought a money order and paid for return service, dropped my passport in a large envelope, and sent it off to the consulate.

The website says it will take two-to-three weeks for it to be processed and returned to me. I thought about heading back to the States and taking care of it there, but it’s quicker to handle it through a U.S. consulate overseas.

My youngest daughter, who is at university in Scotland, also had to renew hers and had it back in her hands in less than two weeks. In the States, even expediting the process can take up to three weeks, while standard processing can take up to six weeks.

In the meantime, I wait.


Theoretically, I can legally leave the country because Germany is part of the Schengen Agreement. I should, in theory, be able to cross borders within the Schengen area without being subjected to a passport check.

But temporary border controls have been reintroduced due to security concerns. On two recent visits to France, I have been on a bus from which passengers were
removed for a lack of paperwork.


I risked it for a pre-planned train trip to Paris with my daughters to see Michelle Obama and revisit the Atelier des Lumières.

This wasn’t the first time that I’ve held my breath as I cross a border. I have overstayed by a day or two in the past due to circumstances beyond my control and had to hope I would be allowed to return to Germany from the UK when I was told (incorrectly) that I couldn’t leave the country while my application for a residence permit was being reviewed.


For the few seconds that my passport was out my hands, I was anxiety-ridden and sure I would be turned back or, at very least, interrogated at length about my dates of travel.

It’s the same feeling you get when, as a child, you get called to the principal’s office. Even if you’re sure you’ve done nothing wrong, your hands start sweating and your heart beats faster. Luckily, I’ve been waved through every time.

For the record, on the trip to Paris on Tuesday, no one checked. Coming back, several police boarded the train and did a brief walkthrough, but didn’t ask anyone in the car we were in to show ID.

For now, I am “stuck” in Germany. I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek as I love Germany. I lived here for many years as a child and, as an adult, am still enchanted with the country and its culture.

If I must sit tight and wait, there are few places I’d rather be than

Nonetheless, I’ll feel better when I’m reunited with my passport. This time, I requested the 52-page version rather than the standard 24 pages. The longer I can put off going through the renewal process again, the better.

About the author: 

Beth Hoke rejoined the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.

Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.

Beth has been traveling around Europe for two years. She’s filed posts for Dispatches Europe from at least six countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia, and Madeira, Portugal.

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