Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Visa Visa Bo Bisa

Oh Romania. The land of Bureaucracy. They do it so well, that I’m starting to think it is perhaps the land that invented it. Because everything, and I mean everything, requires paperwork here in Romania. Take for instance my most recent exploration into the depths of Romanian bureaucracy- getting a visitor's visa for a man to come from Sierra Leone. Why, you may ask, would I want to get a visa for a man from Sierra Leone? Well, it just so happens that we are going to have a camp this summer and are inviting a pastor we know to come and speak for the week. Now, as an American, able to freely travel to and fro as I please throughout most of the world, I certainly didn’t understand that our situation is not altogether common. The ability to just show up in a country and hang out there for a bit without any prior invitation is not enjoyed by many of the world’s people.

So I go to the police station to find out what I need to do to invite a person from Sierra Leone to come to Romania. Somewhat surprisingly, but somewhat unsurprisingly, the list is quite long:

Copy of visitor’s passport (reasonable)

Copy of inviter’s passport/ID (reasonable)

Two glossy 3x4 cm photos of visitor (semi-reasonable)

Bank statement of inviter showing at least 30 Euro per day that visitor will be in the country, presumably to show that someone will pay for the visitor if he/she cannot (seriously?)

Two taxes, one for 1 lei (about 30 US cents) and one for 22 lei, paid in two different locations, for goodness knows what (unreasonable if only because it requires trekking to more places)

Document stating that the visitor will have at least 12 square meters in which to stay while in Romania. This can be a hotel reservation or house contract that states how many rooms are there and how many people live in those rooms (12 square meters is kind of a lot. So I’m not entirely sure how the average Romania would have 12 extra square meters of space to devote to visitors)

Document from the Notary stating that if the visitor goes on a spending spree, the inviter is responsible, if the visitor dies, the inviter is responsible to get the body back to the home country, and other such pleasantries. For this document you need to know the first names of the visitor’s mother and father (????? Does. Not. Compute.)

So I get all these documents. Slowly and painstakingly. I make a grand tour of many of the city’s notaries, trying to find someone who doesn’t immediately shut down on me with “You can’t do this” and thereafter offer no useful information about how I CAN do it (Because I know I can), no matter how persistent and New Yorker-esque I am. I make several trips to the police station to check and see if what I have is acceptible(e.g., does the bank statement need to be in Euros, or can it be in a lei/dollar equivalent?). The day arrives when I have done everything I can on my own and I have to bring Dave along with me, since he’s the one who is actually being the inviter. And we spend a jolly four hours traipsing around the city to finish up the process. By this point I have managed to make friends with nearly every police officer at the station, and I am on a first name basis with them. They no longer yell at me when I enter, just shake their heads as if to say, “Here we go again with this poor American girl trying to get someone here from Sierra Leone. Tis a shame she’s so silly to think she will actually be able to accomplish such a feat.”

Here’s the real kicker. Once I have submitted all the documents, the bureaucratic wheels do their grinding, and out pops an invitation letter a month later (but only after an in-person visit by a police officer to the house where the visitor will stay). At this point we must send the letter to our visitor, who then must present himself to a Romanian embassy with said letter and his passport. In order to get it stamped. Because clearly that is necessary. So I look online to see if per chance there is a Romanian embassy in Sierra Leone. Are you laughing now, because it’s laughable to me that I even looked. I knew what the answer was going to be. A big fat resounding no. Not only is there not a Romanian embassy in Sierra Leone, but there is not one in any country short of a 3 hour plane ride away from Sierra Leone. Knowing this information, on one of my many trips into the police station, I politely ask the police officer (Bogdan, my favorite, because he’s always dressed in full immigration personnel regalia) what a visitor might do if there is no Romanian embassy in his or her country. He looks at me as if the answer is obvious and says, “Well just have him go to a neighboring country.” Ohhhh Europeans. Just because YOU live 20 miles from a neighboring country, you assume that the whole world does. I (still politely) inform Bogdan that there aren’t any Romanian embassies in any surrounding countries. “Just look on the internet” he responds. I have. There aren’t any embassies. So he stalks off to look at the computer, because obviously The American Girl is incompetent. A few minutes later he looks up and says, “Angola. Congo. There are embassies there.” Now, my African geography isn’t overly excellent, but in that moment, sans map, I can say with some certainty, a little less politely, “Sir, that would be like asking someone to fly from Iasi to Paris. To get a stamp. To go to a completely different country.” He looks at me as if to say This Is Not My Problem, and repeats “Angola. Congo. Have him go there.” Right, thanks. I heard you the first three times you said that.

So as it stands now, our paperwork is submitted. Oh but did I mention we had to submit it all over again because of a technicality with addresses? Right. Good thing I got FOUR glossy 3x4 cm photos the first time around instead of two. And I naively thought I wouldn't need them. By the grace of God we will get the invitation letter in the near future and be able to send it to our visitor. And then somehow, someway, by the sheer grace of God we will get him to a Romanian embassy to get that good ‘ol stamp. I rather enjoy this whole thing, in so far as I like a good challenge. And I have realized there are two responses to this kind of situation. Laugher or tears. And since I hear that laughter prolongs your life and tears only smear your mascara, I have decided to laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha. I hope you have joined in as well.


Steven A Mitchell said...

Definitely laughed out loud at this one! I actually know where the Romanian consulate is here in Philly, so if he wants to fly through Philly on his way to Iaşi... Might actually turn out to be the least ridiculous element of the whole ordeal. :-)

ClujStuff said...

Now it seems somehow hard to believe that just a few years ago we Romanians were subject to similar or (wait for it :)) worse bureaucratic nightmares in order to get a VISA to USA, EU, Canada, etc.

The US embassy in Bucharest used to ask proof that you have enough properties in Romania so that you are not tempted to not return from your visit in the States.