Monday, August 15, 2016

Certified passport copy from the Chicago Indian consultate

(No tax or legal advise ahead; just our recent experiences on this)

Some of us Indian citizens who have had to file a U.S. tax return may have had to get a 'Tax Identification Number' for our spouses in the course of filing our own returns. In my case, U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) required me to either mail them our spouse's Indian passport or alternatively, mail them a 'certified copy' of the passport. This certification cannot be just a notarized one; the certification needs to be done by the authority that issued the passport; practically, this means the Indian consulate for us.

Unfortunately, the Indian consulate (Chicago) website does not mention anything about "certified copy" in their list of miscellaneous services. Speaking of which, the website is quite a mess; the url does not inspire confidence ("is this really the official website?", one wonders). Clicking on "Consular services -> Miscellaneous services" gives an "Oops...404 error", the search button is useless, and good luck finding something as basic as the phone number. A google search got me the numbers, but tried calling them up three days continuously but no even lifts the phone!

So we were forced to take our chances and drive 400 km to Chicago to get certified copies. We took along the following documents :
a) Completed "miscellaneous services form"
b) Copy of (spouse's) passport - front, back
c) Copy of (spouse's) U.S. drivers license
d) Cash, $13 (we guessed this amount based on the other misc. services on the website, and we were right).

AFAIK, you need notarized copies of the above documents only if you are applying by mail. We took simple copies. If you need two certified copies of the passport,take two copies of everything and $26 cash.

The office is located in prime Chicago; parking is crazy. There is no parking for the Indian embassy specifically but public parking lots are close by. Parking is expensive; we ended up paying $26 for two hours in one particular parking structure. A better thing would be to use something like 'Parkwhiz'. Also saves you the hassle of hunting for parking; you'll have a specific place when you reach Chicago.

We reached at about 11:30 am on a Tuesday and were very apprehensive on any help based on the website and telephone experience, as also our experiences with babudom in India.

When we reached there was a long line. Of one person. And our experience in the consulate was very good! Was refreshing to get to speak in Hindi. This with a  helpful Gujju uncle behind the counter. Turned out that one of the drivers' license copied was missing (we wanted two certified copies; one to keep just in case). A notice board at the reception said something to the effect that you need to go outside and get copies done if you need them (another 30 mins all in all probably). But Gujju uncle very helpfully again said that he'll get one done himself and we should not worry. And thankfully he was very aware of the certified passport copy required by the IRS.

As i understand it, the standard procedure is that all walk-ins at the consulate are entertained until 12:30 pm (they break for lunch between 12:30 - 1:30 pm i think). If you were served within that time, they return the original passport and give you the certified copies at 3:30 pm. Here again we were pleasantly surprised that Gujju uncle said "I think you've driven a lot to come here. So why don't you come in an hour to collect your originals and the certified copies instead of waiting until 3:30 pm".

When we got back after an hour, the officers had already started lunch so we were concerned about a long wait. Again, one of the officials who was passing by to wash his hands after a hearty lunch of possibly puri-bhaji (judging by the oily hands) asked if we were waiting for something. When we explained he said 'Oh, don't wait for that. We'll give it you earlier". After 15 minutes, a lady came out and told the small group waiting for all sorts of certifications that if all we were waiting for was documents, they'll be happy to give these right then. And we got our documents back 5 minutes after this lady spoke. Super stuff!

So overall, i think i went with a very prejudiced mind to the Chicago Indian consulate but happy to say that they were very responsive and efficient. I think the place they really need to get right is the communication aspect (website/telephone). I would also add that the place looked quite shabby; there was a pile of furniture pieces/wood lying in a corner (!), and  in typical sarkari fashion, the sofas were cordoned off - supposedly only for VIPs with the lay public having to contend with plastic chairs. But again, it would be ungrateful of me not to thank the consulate for the work done!

And oh, in case you're wondering, the certified copies (which is just like a notarization, but with the Ashoka Chakra stamp on the copy and the vice-consul signing) were accepted by the IRS.

edit: This is a very useful link for those wanting to do this by post; please see the first post by one lakshmiram.

No comments: