Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be called by my Hebrew name, Rachel. But as is often the case, life kept getting in the way. I told myself that I would change my name legally when I became an adult. While researching, I discovered that changing your name in the US can be a drawn-out process and a bit pricey, with a court hearing and all. I decided that I would save up money to then be able to change my name.
I contemplated changing my name in nursing school. Many women in my class were getting married and having to change their names. But the faculty advised us against changing our names unless we had to. In nursing school, the State Board of Nursing closely monitors you — you must have background checks done, fingerprints taken, and urine drug screens before being allowed to graduate nursing school and sit for the RN licensing exam. Changing your name in the middle of this process could complicate your ability to be allowed to take the licensing exam on time.
I made Aliyah September 2020, and upon registering for my Teudat Zehut (ID card), I had the option to change my name at the Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of Interior) office in Jerusalem. At this point, many Olim choose to change their name, either because they identify more with their Hebrew name or because they want a more Israeli-sounding name. Since I was recently engaged, I decided to wait to change my name until after I got married (and took my husband’s last name). My then-fiance-now-husband changed his name to his Hebrew name, and they told him that he wouldn’t be able to change his name again until after seven years had passed (except in the case of marriage). You can find more information about changing your name through Misrad Hapnim here.
Six months after I made Aliyah, I became eligible to apply for an Israeli passport. I knew I wanted to have my new name on my Israeli passport, so I made an appointment with Misrad Hapnim to change my name. While there, they told me that I didn’t need to make a separate appointment for my first passport. They filled out the paperwork and took my photo on the spot!
After I changed my name at Misrad Hapnim, it took us a while to make an appointment at the bank to join our accounts. Akiva works during the day and I work afternoon/evenings, so scheduling bureaucratic appointments became extremely challenging. We finally found a day over two months after I changed my name to go to the bank. We met with a banker who was extremely nice and could speak English well, and the entire process took about 1.5 hours. We signed papers adding me to Akiva’s account (most of our bills go through his account, this was the easiest way). We ordered new checks with both of our names, ordered a couple of new cards, and closed my previous account.
Once you change your name in another country, you must also change your name in the United States: the US does not allow you to fly with an “otherwise known as” on your passport if you have already legally changed your name in Israel. Both passport names must match. Luckily, the process to change your US name is much simpler outside of the United States. It simply involves renewing your passport with the required name change documents.
It is important to note that the US Embassy and consulate are operating with limited services due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Adult passport renewal in-person is not available: you must submit your application and the required documents either by mail or through the drop-box at each location.
For renewal/name change by mail (or drop-box), you will need:
- A completed DS-82 form;
- A valid US passport photo: Signed declaration of headcovering for religious reasons must be included if this applies to you;
- Evidence of US citizenship: your current passport will do;
- A certified bank check (not a personal check!) in dollars: This will be a check from your Israeli bank amounting to $130.00 (paid through your account);
- Israeli name change documents and/or Israeli passport: I submitted both, just in case;
- Copies of Israeli name change documents/Israeli passport with English translation: You do not have to have them officially translated; translating them yourself will suffice. I handwrote the translations using Google Translate as my guide. Some people have had luck without any translations, but the risk is yours to take.
*Israeli marriage certificate is not listed as a required document, but I went ahead and submitted mine with the translation, just in case.
I made an appointment at my bank branch in the cashier’s department to get a certified bank check. When my number was called, the cashier barely spoke English. I had heard stories in different groups online about there being a lot of pushback at getting a check like this (several people had to return a few times and left in tears), but I was determined to leave with this check in my hand — one way or another. Luckily, the girl helping me (she seemed like she was new) wanted to be helpful; she was just very confused about what exactly I needed to be done. Knowing that any mistakes in printing the check would render it invalid, I showed her the instructions from the US Embassy translated into Hebrew via Google Translate. After she printed it out and had the manager sign it, I triple-checked to ensure there were no mistakes. Thank goodness, it was perfect!
Since there are no appointments available for adult renewals, you will need to have your documents returned via courier service or registered mail.
If you submit your items via the drop-box, you will receive a return envelope with a slip of paper to fill in your address and other details for the courier. I was unaware of this and went to a local post office and paid for a return envelope through registered mail. This was completely useless, as the US Embassy doesn’t allow you to submit documents inside your own envelope (for security reasons) via the drop-box. If you are going the renewal-by-mail route, the address you send the documents to is different from the Embassy’s actual physical location (where they can check mail for dangerous substances). So just know that there are two very different ways to submit your application. If you are on a bit of a time crunch or want the added safety of directly submitting your documents to the Embassy (instead of getting lost by Israel Post), then using the drop-box is probably your best option.
Please see Shira Brown’s comprehensive FAQ page here for tips and additional information about US passport renewals and other US Embassy services (I am not associated with her group, I just really appreciate the services she provides).
*Starting March 6, 2022, there will be a new option to pay for your passport renewal online. You can pay via credit/debit card, PayPal, ACH bank account, or through your Amazon account.