How to travel internationally without a passport

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 @ %I:%M %p | Life

Over the coming weeks I’ll be re-posting my favorite entries from an old blog. This is the first one, first published on March 14, 2007.

The weekend of Feb 24-25 was the FOSDEM conference in Brussels. Just a train ride away from Amsterdam, so I flew over a day earlier to first swing by the family and then continue on to the conference.

I flew into Zaveltem and took the train to Amsterdam. When the train approached the Schiphol station it was announced that it wasn’t going any further, so we had to get off and switch to a train that was continuing on to the Centraal station. When back on train, I settled in my seat and nodded off. About 15-20 minutes later the train arrived at the Centraal station. I reached over to the seat next to me, picked up my coat and …. and …, no backpack..!? When I got on the train I put my suitcase on the floor before the seat, my backpack on the seat next to me and my coat over it. Coat’s there, suitcase’s there, no backpack. In the fifteen minutes between the two stations that I nodded off someone managed to run off with the backpack. With in it my laptop, my cell phone, my Sun badge, and my passport.

Walked over to the police station at the train station. When the desk officer heard that my passport was stolen, he sent me back to the Schiphol airport to report the theft to the Marchaussee (Dutch military/border police). Kindly he phoned ahead. So back to the airport. Filed the police report and then to the so-called “Afdeling Nooddokumenten” (Department for Emergency Documentation). When the lady there heard me say that I was Dutch but lived in the US and that I needed an emergency passport before Monday (this is Thursday) when I would be flying back to the US, she got a little difficult look on her face. “What documents do you have?” she asked. Well, I still had my wallet and in there were my green card and my NY state driver’s license. “Maybe you’re able to travel with those,” she said. She phoned an Homeland Security official and the person confirmed that with those two pieces I should be able to get back in the country. I thought “worth a try, we’ll see what happens.”

Now back on the train on to Amersfoort, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Sun’s Dutch office is there. There is a so-called drop-in office in Amsterdam, but that is unmanned (ie, no receptionist) and so unlikely to get into without the badge. Have to report the laptop’s absence to Sun security, order a new badge, change passwords, and then re-create as much as possible the material for the JCP EC meeting on Feb 27-28 and other meetings later in the week. All of a sudden I find myself warped back to the 80-ies: need to be in a real office in order to do any work. That’s where the computer is, where the telephone is. And it needs to happen during normal business hours: without the badge I can’t go in or out outside those hours.

On Monday morning after the FOSDEM conference to the airport. I’m flying United. Before you get to the check-in desk there is the security check. The guy asks for my passport. I say I don’t have one and hand him the police report. Luckily they can read Dutch in Belgium. I give him my green card and driver’s license. He reads through the police report and then asks me all the usual questions: where did you stay, is this your luggage, who packed it, where, etc etc. He then shows the paperwork to his supervisor, the supervisor nods and we’re done. On to the desk to check in. From there to passport control and to the gate. The guy at passport control asks: “You don’t have a passport? They’re letting you on the plane?” “Yeah,” I say showing him the boarding card, and I am through. At the gate for the flight they again check IDs. When it is my turn, I give the United lady my boarding card, tell her about the passport. She looks a bit puzzled, looks over her shoulder for her supervisor. He’s standing about 15 feet away with his back to us. I can almost hear her think: “Oh what the heck.” She shrugs, gives me back my boarding card and I am on the plane. Across the ocean we land at Washington Dulles. On to the next hurdle. I have my customs form filled out and with the green card, driver’s license in hand I approach the immigration officer. “Passport?” he asks. “Don’t have one, stolen” I respond. He seems largely uninterested, stamps the customs form and when he hands it all back remarks: “Hope nobody makes fraudulent use of your passport.” Me too. I walk on and I am back in the US. First order of business: find a pay phone to tell Rachel that the husband made it back.

This Monday I went to the Dutch Consulate in New York City to file for a new passport. When asked for my current passport I replied that I don’t have one, explained what happened and handed over the police report. The guy looks at me quite stunned: “But how did you get back in without a passport!?” “Well, it was quite easy, actually.” He calls over his manager. She declares: “Nobody travels to the US without a passport these days.” But I am here, am I not? She makes me tell the story again. They are still confused. The application is filed. The new passport should be ready in three weeks or so. I brought a copy of my birth certificate with me. I still had that from the green card application. I offered it to the Consulate guy: “Not necessary,” he says, “I believe you’re Dutch.”

Turns out that it was easy traveling without the passport. It was amazingly easy. I had prepared myself for all kinds of arguments with officials, extra security checks and so on. I arrived at the Brussels airport three hours ahead of the flight to allow for all that. But none of it, it went almost quicker than normal.



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