I went early yesterday morning to Dammam to renew my passport through the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh’s “Embassy on Wheels” or the EOW program. Thanks to a colleague, who’s also a volunteer for the EOW, for giving me a lift to the Al Jazeera International School (Philippine School of Dammam).
I booked an appointment with the Embassy through their website way back in August. I was trying to get a booking for their September or October tour but the online appointment was already full so I had to settle for the December schedule.
So I advise the Filipinos in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia to book their renewal as early as 6 months prior to the expiration of their passports to avoid any problem.
Let me take you to a virtual tour on how the renewal process went on yesterday morning.
The Waiting Game
We arrived at the venue at around 7:25AM. I went straight to the reception area where my documents and old passport were checked to see if my name was on their list of applicants with online appointment. That didn’t take so long for the receptionist to find my name and I was instructed to go immediately to the school gym where the waiting game will happen.
My paper was stamped number 31.
Based on the online appointment letter, I was supposed to be served at 8:00AM. Apparently, this is not true for this particular government service. You’ll have to wait until all their equipment and computers are ready.
Inside the gym were a fairly decent number of crowd already waiting. Those who were renewing their passports were seated in the middle of the gym. A separate line upstairs were those waiting to claim their passports.
For this blog post, I’ll be focusing on the review of the passport renewal process only.
The volunteers started to set up their tables, computers, cameras, and other things to prepare for the processing at around 8:10AM. A volunteer then gave clear instructions via the PA system on what the applicants will do. As usual, a handful of the first 10 to be served still didn’t get it (i.e. did not follow the procedures) so the volunteer had to repeat the instructions all over to the rest.
The process included the following step-by-step procedures:
1. Verification of Passport Renewal Application Form, old passport, appointment letter, and copy of the old passport’s information section. – I was served at this section at around 8:45AM. The guy who checked on my papers and passport mentioned my last name like he’s checking if I was the celebrity he has in mind. He checked every detail and ensured that all required fields were filled out. And then he signed off on the upper right hand corner of the application form. Finished in less than 1 minute.
2. Stamping of the Application Form. The man in-charged in stamping was wearing a cool New Yorkish outfit. I would say this step is still part of the verification process so I wonder why they have to assign another guy just to stamp “Accepted” on the upper left hand corner of the application form. The guy from the verification could have just stamped it right away. It took me about 3 minutes on the line before I reached the guy’s table. It didn’t take that long though for him to stamp on my paper.
3. Encoding of passport renewal application details. After having my paper stamped “Accepted”, I went to the other side of the gym where applicants will wait for their turn to be called by the Encoder. This is where the passport details are recorded into the Embassy’s system. This is also where applicants will be photographed by the encoder so he could post your neat face on Facebook. Electronic stamping of both thumbprints was also done here. I waited in line for around 30 minutes before I was served. After the encoder recorded my passport details, he printed out a paper for me to confirm if all the details he encoded were correct before I signed on it. Yes, for double-checking purpose. I think the encoding, posing, and stamping took about 5 minutes by the encoder who looked like a hiphop metal fusion dude from the West Coast. My colleague Cesar who’s a volunteer encoder as well was right next to him. He then gave me a printout of the receipt for payment of the passport renewal fee. Next stop was the Cashier.
4. Payment of the Passport Renewal Fee. The queue on the cashier was not that long and I think I was the 10th on the line. My advice to all applicants: When paying your fees anywhere, make sure that you have the exact amount to avoid delays. My advice to the cashiers anywhere: Make sure you have bills for change anytime of the day. As for me, I paid the exact amount. I made sure that I have a copy of the receipt upon payment. Another head-scratcher there was that the applicants will still be the ones asked to bring back a copy of the receipt to the encoder.
5. Return to the encoder. You will return to the encoder to have a chat with him again. Kidding aside, you will have to give a copy of the receipt attached to the printout of your passport details which was provided by the encoder himself earlier before you fall in line for payment.
Reminder: Make sure that you have your old passport and a copy of the receipt with you before leaving the Embassy or the venue where you renewed your passport. DO NOT leave them to any of the EOW volunteers. You will be needing both of these things when you claim your new passport 30 days after your application date. Keep on checking the Philippine Embassy’s website to see if your passport is already available for claiming.
That was it basically. That passport renewal process took me about an hour or so. Still not bad as compared to other processes back home.
But still I have a few comments and recommendations for the Embassy to consider:
- Application details should be encoded by the applicants when they make the appointment online. Verification can be done by someone from the Embassy taking care of these reservations from their website.
- I noticed that the Embassy on Wheel’s services are entirely done by volunteers. I wonder if they are paid or are doing everything for free. At least that’s what I understand about volunteerism. Shouldn’t the Embassy hire people to do all these by themselves? I’m not discounting the effort of the volunteers. They’re doing a great service to their fellow OFW’s.
- Cut the redundancy. While I’m pretty sure there are significant good changes in the processes, I noticed that there are few steps that should be merged to reduce cycle time. I mentioned them already.
- The venue chosen by the Philippine Embassy to hold their Embassy on Wheels program in Dammam was way too far for the common OFW in the Eastern Province to reach. If an OFW happens to go there alone without a car, he has to take a cab that will charge him at a crazy SR30 (Php300 more or less) if you are coming from Khobar or way more than that if you are from Jubail and other cities in the Eastern Province.
- The passport renewal fees (and other fees) are a bit expensive for an ordinary OFW. They just could not complain. An ordinary passport renewal fee costs SR240 or equivalent to Php2,630. Way, way double than the Express Processing fee in the Philippines which is Php1,200 (plus additional Php350 only for lost valid e-passport). Embassy officers can explain the reasons in the comment box below this post.
Another reminder: Do not attempt to go to the Embassy on Wheels venue to renew your passport without going through the online appointment system. They will not let you in. The most they could do if you happen to still insist to go is help you out in booking you for the next available Embassy on Wheels schedule in your area.
I hope this post will guide our OFW’s in Saudi Arabia who may not be able to renew their passports back home.
Be safe always.
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