By Lizann Lightfoot
When our family first moved overseas, my husband and I knew we wanted to have another child someday, but we figured that having a baby overseas would be an adventure too wild and dangerous for us. But. . . after living there for a year and meeting lots of other moms who had a baby on base, we realized it wasn’t a big deal. The naval hospital on base wasn’t that different from the hospitals where I had delivered our other babies.
Our fourth child was born overseas on a Spanish naval base. While I was pregnant, I was confronted with many assumptions and questions. Some of these were completely false. Others were partially true. I’m here to sort it all out.
1. If your baby is born overseas, they will have dual citizenship!
In most cases, being born on foreign soil does not automatically make someone a citizen of that country. Citizenship is based on the parents’ nationality. If both parents are American, the baby is also American, no matter where he or she is born. However, if one parent is from a different country or has dual citizenship with the US, then the parents can apply for the baby to be declared a citizen of that country or be a dual citizen. Countries have different policies about dual citizenship with America: Some countries permit dual citizens with a passport from each country; other countries only allow one passport at a time and will require citizen applicants to surrender foreign passports. You will have to research the specific laws for your situation and the country where you have a baby.
2. Your baby won’t have a birth certificate.
When an American baby is born overseas, they will not receive a traditional American birth certificate, but the local country will issue a birth certificate in the local language. Americans can pick up a copy of the baby’s birth certificate at the off-base town hall or government building. You should request multiple copies of the original birth certificate because sometimes it can only be acquired in person. We didn’t want to make a return trip to Europe if we ever lost our baby’s birth certificate, so we got ten copies and distributed some to family members to store in a safe or a bank for us.
What America provides to babies born overseas is called a Certificate of Birth Abroad. This is a document in English which is issued by the American Embassy or consulate. It will often be used in place of a birth certificate for things like school applications and proof of citizenship. You must first acquire the local birth certificate and use it to request the Certificate of Birth Abroad. Your base hospital will walk you through the necessary paperwork steps.
3. You will give birth in a foreign hospital where doctors don’t speak English.
Most military bases overseas have a hospital on base, staffed by American military doctors and nurses. These facilities have OB-GYN, labor and delivery, and pediatric specialists to accommodate the needs of young military families. They deliver babies every week, so you will be in good hands with their staff. TRICARE covers all typical pregnancy and birth costs at the on-base hospital.
In some areas, smaller overseas military hospitals are not equipped for high-risk pregnancies, emergency surgery, or a NICU. Patients needing these services will be sent off base, ideally to a facility with an English-speaking doctor. If there is no doctor who speaks English, TRICARE will provide a medical translator at no cost to you. Mothers I’ve talked to who delivered at off-base hospitals said the language barrier was a little complicated and added some stress to the birth, but overall they were happy with their options and their level of care.
4. You won’t be able to travel for months while you wait for you baby’s passport.
Yes, your baby will need a passport to travel outside the country–even on PCS orders. Passengers without identification are not allowed to travel and this includes babies. Some military bases have a passport processing center on base, but the passport application must go through the country’s American Embassy. The approval process typically takes at least two months. You should not make any travel plans for at least three months after the baby is born. However, you can drive directly to an Embassy and pay a passport expedition fee, which will allow you to complete the process in four to six weeks. I know it’s possible. . . because that’s exactly what we had to do!
5. No one will be around to help you.
Even though no family was able to visit me when I had a baby overseas, the base community was extremely supportive. Friends got together and brought us meals for almost two weeks. Neighbors took my older kids to school or picked them up to save me a trip. People donated baby clothes, toys, and bibs. I hired a housekeeper to come two hours a week to temporarily help me with the laundry and cleaning. Even though we were stationed in a foreign country, adding another child to our family went more smoothly than expected. I am so thankful for the military families who helped make it possible!
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.