Expat to Expat Advice-Registering Your Newborn as a US Citizen

Having a baby in Singapore is pretty easy, and I grew to really appreciate the medical care I received here.  However, once the baby arrives, you may find yourself buried under a mountain of paperwork.  As an American married to an American, I can only address the process of registering your American child.  My information is current as of October 27, 2011, but you should always check with the Embassy to see if procedures have changed.

Singaporean Certificate of Registration of Birth

Singapore’s laws on citizenship and birth are clear…

Only children born of Singaporean Citizens are eligible for Singaporean Citizenship

When Rhiannon was born, we had to register her birth at the hospital (there are 4 or 5 locations where you can do so, but it was easiest to just fill out the form and have Ravi take the paperwork downstairs at the hospital).  She was given a form called a “Certificate of Registration of Birth” which clearly states at the bottom that “THE CHILD IS NOT A CITIZEN OF SINGAPORE AT THE TIME OF BIRTH”.  However, it is the document that certifies a live birth to the two of us, and allowed us to file for citizenship paperwork with the US Embassy.

I actually had to call the embassy before I felt comfortable filling out the Certificate of Registration of Birth for Rhiannon.  As I’ve talked about before, Singapore doesn’t do “middle names” in the way that the US does (and why I’m often called CrystalAnn instead of Crystal).  I wasn’t sure if I should just not put Rhiannon’s middle name on the paperwork (I didn’t want her to end up having a horrendously long first name if I screwed it up), or if I should just put it, or what.  I spoke with a helpful woman at the Embassy who told me that we should just write her first and middle names as a first name on that document (in the same way that our first/middle names are treated as a first name in Singapore) and then the family name.  We were also reminded to request that her name be written as firstname lastname in the American style instead of the lastname firstname style of most Asian countries, including Singapore.

This document was fairly inexpensive.  Ravi said it was something like 30-40 SGD.  It seemed to take a long time, at least from my perspective of waiting for him in the room.

At the same time that Rhiannon was issued her “Certificate of Registration of Birth,” she was also given an “entry card” for Singapore, which allows her to stay 42 days in the country.  It is the same document any tourist receives, and that we received prior to getting our Work/Dependent passes (which allow us to enter and exit Singapore freely, as well as to remain in the country beyond the lengths of time given to tourists).  I think this just further proves what a giant dork I am that I found her recieving an “entry” card hysterically funny.

What American Documents do I need and how do I get them?

The next order of business was to procure passport photos…we needed both American and Singaporean passport photos (they’re different sizes).  Both require that that person’s eyes be open, which is easier said than done with a newborn.  However, we were assured that the hospital photography people could manage it, and as we were buying a photo package anyways, we asked for passport photos.  I was impressed that they had no trouble getting an eyes open photo–but I didn’t ask too many questions about how they got it-I’m not sure I want to know.

Once you have a certificate of birth and a game plan on passport photos, you should spend some time reading through the various articles on the “Children and Birth Abroad” page from the US Embassy.

As an American registering an American, you will need to get the following documents for your child shortly after birth

  • A certificate of foreign birth (this operates as their legal birth certificate within the US)
  • A social security number
  • A passport

You’ll have to book a special appointment for this paperwork (as opposed to other citizenship services, which are available on a walk-in basis), there are three forms that must be filled out (you can find them here, about halfway down the page) , and both parents and the child need to be present at the appointment (or if one parent can’t be there, there’s a special additional form that must be completed).  I learned that the appointments fill up quickly, so you should get online to book it as early as you possibly can (I advise while you’re in the hospital or the day you come home).  I also strongly suggest you fill out the paperwork in advance…we procrastinated and ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time the night before our appointment filling out the paperwork.

The paperwork for the Certificate of Foreign Birth sucks.  There is an item (#12 on the form we filled out) that states you must list all of your dates of residency in the United States from birth until present day for both parents.  What they don’t say is that it doesn’t matter if both parents are US born citizens.  It does matter for couples where one person is not a US citizen and families where one/both parents are foreign born.  For example, if Rhi married a person holding non-US citizenship and wanted to transmit American citizenship to her child, she’d have to prove that she had spent at least five years on American soil.  Ravi and I spent HOURS trying to reconstruct our travel…mine was painful, his was practically tear inducing as he has been traveling internationally since he was only 2 months old.  The only reason we were able to create the document at all is that his parents had a list of their travel from their time of arrival in the US which they needed when they applied for and received their US Citizenship.  In the end, we were told that although we were missing some exact dates, it wasn’t important because we were both US born.  UGH.

I wish that it were clear on that form that item 12 is only necessary for certain circumstances.  Perhaps it just marks us as nerds, but we read the instructions and were very worried about following them.

The Social Security paperwork was pretty straightforward and was easy to fill out.

There were two issues with the passport paperwork.  Firstly it asks for the social security number, so you can’t fill it out electronically and print out the application.  You must fill it out long hand.  Secondly, there’s a final item which asks about your planned foreign travel.  It’s one thing to apply for the passport while in the US, as we did with Ellie–we knew that there was a UK trip something like 6-8 months out from when we applied for the document.  In Rhiannon’s case, I ended up writing her birth date as the start of her time abroad and noted “live abroad” in the “duration of trip” box.  But I had a lot of doubts about doing so.  Again, the embassy personnel were non-plussed and I was stressing over silly details that weren’t that important.

You’ll also need supporting documentation.

  • 1 copy of your marriage license
  • 2 copies (each) of the parent’s passports (note–you can put both parents passports on the same photocopied page, or so we were told after giving them 4 pieces of paper)
  • The passport photo (and remember to be specific that it’s a US passport photo when getting it, as SG passport photos are a different size)
  • The email notes that if you’ve been divorced, you’ll need copies of the divorce decree and proof of residency if one of the parents isn’t a US citizen–neither of which applied to us

What happens at the Embassy appointment?

In my confirmation email from the Embassy, I was advised to arrive about 15 minutes early to get through Embassy security and make my way to the citizenship offices.  There was a long line, but with the baby, security jumped us to the front of the line and got us through quickly.  As with previous visits, I knew that I had to turn off and give them my phone (so this time I remembered a physical book to help pass time).  They put the diaper bag, the sling, and Ravi’s wallet through the scanner and we passed through the metal detector.  It was quick and they were so nice to be worried about us standing out in the heat with the baby.  I really appreciated the courtesy.

Unlike with regular walk in appointments, you don’t get a number slip…you just step in at one of the windows (we were instructed window 3) and let them know you’re there and that you have an appointment.

Step 1–We sat down and passed all of the forms, the copies and originals of the supporting documents, and I showed them the baby (taking her partially out of the sling).  This took maybe 5-7 minutes.

Step 2–Pay.  At the time of writing, the fees were $205 USD ($100 for the Certificate of Foreign Birth and $105 for the passport–no charge on the social security card).

Step 3–Wait for your name to be called (this is when the book comes in handy).

Step 4–We were called because Rhiannon has a 2nd middle name (my maiden name) that was not on the Singaporean document.  They needed us to fill out an affidavit stating what we wanted written on her American documents and for both of us to sign it.  At this point, the guy behind the window noted that Ravi’s passport was expiring soon and he should renew it.  Ravi said he’d planned to do it today after Rhiannon’s paperwork was done.  The guy was like “if you have the paperwork, just give it to me now” and told us that most people combine several chores with the birth registration appointment.  Again, our anal respect for rules made us plan to take a longer route to the end than we needed.

Step 5–Wait for your name to be called.

Step 6–Sit down with a person  and officially sign all the paperwork and make your sworn testimony (raised right hand and all) that your statements on the paperwork are true.  Then you get back your original documents, and your collection receipts.  We met a lovely woman named B (not sure if you’d want your name shared), who told me that she reads this blog!

The thing you need to know about me, and that B from the embassy found out in person is that I’m a tremendous dork…I was super flattered to be recognized for the blog and turned about 80 shades of red.  I’ve never been recognized for Expat Bostonians before like that and it was super cool.    It was great to meet you and I’m glad the bog helped you with your move to Singapore!  Sorry to be so chatterboxy…the waiting room had been almost empty when we got there and I hadn’t realized that so many people had come in since!  If you ever want to hang out, I have some other friends with kids around Elanor and your older child’s age–drop me a comment and I’ll email you back privately.

Step 7-Leave, and don’t forget to pick up your cell phone.

Our total time at the embassy was about an hour, maybe somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes.  To be honest, after the migraine that the paperwork gave us, I was surprised and pleased by how easily the paperwork went.

We were told it’s about 2 weeks for the passport and Certificate of Foreign Birth.  I’ll have to go back to the Embassy to pick them up.  Rhiannon’s social security card will be mailed to our home, and will take a bit longer (they estimate 3 weeks).

What’s next?

After the Certificate of Foreign Birth and the Passport are in, we’ll have to do the paperwork with Singapore to get Rhiannon’s Dependent Pass, which allows her to stay in Singapore and to enter/exit freely. 

Thoughts on the experience

It’s definitely far more involved to have a baby abroad.

I don’t recall having to produce my marriage license for E’s birth certificate, and obviously having a baby in the US eliminates the immediate need for a passport.  Although you live abroad, you use the same forms as Americans at home do for documents like the passport, which does create confusion (by foreign travel do they mean out of the US–and if so, what date do I put if I’ve lived abroad for a long time….or do they mean out of the country I currently live in?), especially if you over-think everything like I do.

I think it’s really interesting that if Rhiannon needs a copy of her birth certificate in the future, she’ll need to request it from the State Department in DC.

The major lessons I learned is that you should really document your travel (and your children’s) even if you believe you’ll never be in one of the positions where you would need to prove residency.  I can tell you that all the travel before I had a google calendar account was beyond painful to reconstruct.

This entry was posted in Culture Shock, Expat to Expat Advice, Pregnant Expat, Singapore, US, With Kids. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Expat to Expat Advice-Registering Your Newborn as a US Citizen

  1. Musns says:

    Be prepared for people in the US to look at the “certificate of birth abroad” weird and ask if you have any other legal documents. Sighs, maybe it is just West Virginia – but they hate my eldest’s birth certificate. It’s red and cream and doesn’t look like a typical birth certificate.

    And I feel vindicated that you didn’t *need* all your travel dates with both parents being American citizens 😉

    • Crystal says:

      I’m a nerd and when official paperwork wants something I’m used to jumping when I’m told to jump. Singapore is beyond anal about this sort of thing. And I didn’t want to risk messing up my kid’s citizenship.

      I hope she doesn’t want to run for president someday…I’m guessing she’d have more trouble than Obama!

  2. Kirsten says:

    I now have this hysterical idea of there being professional Baby Eye-Openers attached to photography units, whose jobs are solely to coo, coax, tickle and amuse a baby enough for its eyes to be open.

    A very specialised and precise job, or else you will end up with a baby like this: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_g7hJfGJQVA/TgNY21BdcGI/AAAAAAAAACU/2ZQfADefb88/s1600/babyface.jpg

  3. notabilia says:

    Just a note to share our experience… for Q12 that you mention above, you really don’t have to be very specific. I put my “from [my DOB] to [date we moved to Singapore]” and that sufficed because we are (native-born) American citizens. I think the answer to that question only matters if one parent isn’t an American citizen.

    • Crystal says:

      I know that now. We’re far too literal.

      It’s also important for US citizens born out of country married to either a non-US citizen or another foreign born US citizen, though.

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