Sunday, July 13, 2014

Just For The Record

There will almost certainly come a time in your life when you need to obtain an official copy of a vital statistics record that documents an event in your personal history, such as birth, marriage, or divorce, or for a  death certificate of a family member such as a spouse or parent. If you reside in the locale where the occasion in question took place, it may just require a trip to city hall or the county seat to get this document. But if you live outside that area, such as in another state,obviously it's not going to be so convenient. And if you live outside the U.S., as is the case with American expatriates, accessing these files from abroad can be a real challenge. However,  as you will see, there is a solution.

When my wife Lydia was applying  to regain her Philippine citizenship  for dual citizenship status and thought that she had completed all the steps to the reacquisition shuffle, out of the blue the Philippines Bureau of Immigration, decided to request a copy of our marriage certificate. We didn't think we still had it at hand as we were married 43 years ago, but after some digging we managed to find it. Our other concern was that since our marriage took place outside the Philippines that we might have to have our certificate validated locally, and whether or not that was possible. As it turns out, our worries about the latter  were for naught. And a few weeks after we submitted a copy of this paper (by email attachment), Lydia received her dual citizenship certificate. 

Nevertheless, that episode got me to thinking. Suppose the BI had asked her to submit the marriage certificate itself rather than just an emailed attachment. That would have meant surrendering our only record on hand that verifies our marriage. So at that point I decided to try to get another official copy of this form in the event that for whatever reason and to whomever  we are required to submit it. That way we would still have an authorized duplicate for own records.

We were married in Los Angeles, California. So I went on line to find out how to obtain the certificate. I googled my request and was directed to the Los Angeles County Clerk Registrar-Recorder website which furnished instructions about obtaining that form. But I had a few concerns that needed addressing before I could send in my order. One of them concerned  the recorded message instructions for the requester to furnish a self addressed stamped envelope along with the order. Where the hell am I going to get U.S. postage stamps in the Philippines?. The other issue was that the  required identification to be included with the request was a photocopy of a  California driver's license, which I no longer hold. So I phoned the LACCRR, and went through numerous prompts to reach a customer service representative. Alas,  I was never able to get through to speak with one despite making  about three attempts and waiting in queue for approximately an hour each time. What was I going to do?

It so happens that accompanying the LACCRR website, there was link to a private company called .  This  is a service that searches for and furnishes vital statistics records to the requester in a more streamlined manner than that provided by  the government offices themselves, such as a  faster turnaround.  As a result the fee charged  by Vitalchek  is more than the $15.00 assessed by  Los Angeles County . On the other hand, Vitachek accepts other forms of identification from the requester (including passport), and once they obtain the record from the government office in question, they then  forward it to the customer via UPS;  so no SASE or a driver's license worries.

Is Vitalchek an honest and  reliable organization? Well,when I googled their background, I found that the company did have a previous run-in with the Better Business Bureau over advertising and service issues. As a result, Vitalchek made some changes in its operations including its website, which I found very easy to use. So I took a chance and  placed my request for our  marriage certificate through them. I received my order in about  2 1/2 weeks. This is in stark contrast to the LACCRR which estimates a six-week waiting period for order fulfillment.. The cost for Vitalchek's services including the international UPS delivery of my document was $58.00 USD*. So I think that was a pretty good deal. And now that I know I have a source to look to for such important personal files, it makes my life as an expat a little easier.

*The cost of an order may vary depending on the quantity of documents requested and their accessibility.