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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, January 11, 2019
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Passport renewal challenge 1


The four members of my nuclear family renewed our passports this week and it was an interesting experience for us parents as we went through the motions of securing an online appointment, gathering the necessary documents, and then finally showing up at the local Department of Foreign Affairs office to actually renew our passports and that of our two minor kids.

The first step was figuring out what the new system required and after a bit of research, we found out that our DFA only accepts online appointments for passport renewals. The old method when we renewed our passports 5 years ago didn’t require online appointments and it was ok to just walk in to the DFA office, and if the lines were decent, get your passport renewed in a couple of hours. Anyway, times have changed and maybe now more Filipinos require passports so an online appointment system is probably the best solution available.

I don’t know why appointments are so hard to make but in our case, we applied in mid-November but got an appointment for early January. That’s a waiting time of almost 40 days just to get an appointment. Our passports expire in June/July 2019 and we didn’t have any international travels planned so it’ a good thing we weren’t in a rush or we would’ve been forced to pay extra for special treatment or invest in the services of a fixer if we couldn’t find a friend who could help us expedite matters had it been necessary. This shortage of appointment slots has apparently been a problem of the DFA for a while now and based on our 40-day wait for our appointment, it would seem that they still haven’t found a solution yet. Or perhaps the enterprising people there don’t consider it a problem but an opportunity.

Aside from the long wait for an appointment, another thing that bothered me was how we are supposed to make an online appointment. We had no problems filling out the forms on the DFA website but when it came to the critical stage of payment, we were inconvenienced by the DFA website’s inability to accept credit card payments.

Since they didn’t accept credit card payment, we had to go to a 7-11 within 24 hours of making the appointment and pay to confirm. I consider myself a relatively tech-savvy guy but still found great difficulty with the payment because the instructions weren’t very clear.

I was the one who made the online appointment for my family so being the one who entered all the data and attempted to pay online but failed, I expected that the confirmation code for our group appointment to be sent to me. I did have one confirmation code on my email but when I went to 7-11 in the middle of the night to pay, my confirmation code wouldn’t work. My problem came from making a group appointment but the payment kiosk only accepted individual payments. The cashier at the convenience store tried to help but they obviously weren’t trained properly on how such issues could be resolved so I went back home from 7-11 in the middle of the night without having confirmed our appointment.

Back home, I tried to figure out what went wrong and I finally realized that 4 separate confirmation emails had been sent to the four different email addresses of the people I was applying for. I applied for a group appointment but the geniuses who designed the DFA system decided that sending separate confirmation emails to all the members of the group would be better. My kids hardly check their emails so we had to check their emails for their confirmation codes and I had to have them forward those emails to me so I could go back to 7-11 and try to pay again before our appointment expired. I tried again the following morning and successfully paid and confirmed the appointment literally minutes before it was set to expire.

As I said, I consider myself tech savvy but that part of the online appointment system gave me trouble. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for less technologically inclined folk. I can imagine how going to a fixer would be an option for a lot of people. That sucky user experience for a critical government task made me wonder if the system was just designed poorly or if it was developed with fixers deliberately in mind.

Anyway, once I got the hang of the nuances of the unwieldy online appointment system, it was a repetitive task but pretty easy inputting confirmation codes and paying for the four members of our group one by one at a 7-11 before I got to work the following day. However, since the next time I will be doing this will be in 10 years, this is a tedious and unnecessarily complicated task that I don’t need to remember anymore. I’m writing about it hoping that my readers can learn something from my experience with the sucky online appointment system for passport renewals.

We have run out of space so I’ll continue next week where I’ll discuss the scam of the documentary requirements for passport renewal.*  

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