Friday, April 28, 2006

Red Tape and Stamps

Next week I will have been in Poland a year.

This week I finally got around to applying for my residence permit, which I need if I am intending to stay in the country for longer than 3 months... *ahem*

I actually never stayed in Poland for longer than 3 months at a time, leaving every so often for a trip abroad. Still, it was pretty obvious that the people responsible for my voluntary project here in Warsaw were never going to get round to sorting out my paperwork. I should have taken things into hand before this week when the responsibility really shifted to me with the end of my voluntary project.

There is a simple reason for my tardiness: I was scared.

I moved here from Brussels, the bustling international city that has more foreigners than locals. I experienced getting registered in a Brussels suburb. The place where they direct you to an airless shadowy basement room, to wait with other non-Belgians on a row of chairs, eyes focused on a lone door.

The door opens every so often and someone shuffles out. Names are called, and the next person enters, but you have to know the system. The system is never explained, but if you have sharp eyes (or get tired of waiting for hours) you can discover the secret.

If you've been before you have a little scrap of paper with a number and appointment time. You have to take your courage in both hands, walk up to the door and knock. Someone then opens it a couple of centimetres and you can slip through your paper. They then tell you to sit back down and it could be a matter of minutes, or hours, until your turn.

If you've just called beforehand to make an appointment or (horror of horrors) just shown up, you also have to walk up to the door and give your name. Once the information has been received, the door closes, no 'please take a seat', no 'we'll be right with you', just a closing door and a line of uncomfortable plastic chairs to choose between.

Once you make it into the room, oh that's when the real fun begins. You (well, I) will invariably have the wrong piece of paper, or not enough photos (5 if I remember correctly, just so you have to get two sets of 4 I imagine), or the wrong kind of letter explaining why you want to stay in the country.

When I went through all this I was working at an EU institution, the guardian of the freedom of movement for workers, and yet it took many visits and bits of paper before I was registered and my paperwork was in order.

Of course most people have to go back several times. Back to the basement, to sit under the low ceiling next to other unfortunate individuals waiting several minutes or several hours depending on the whims of the people behind The Door.

This is why I was scared.

I now had to go through this process in a country where you need to queue for two days and promise your first-born to a human trafficker just to post a parcel.

We decided on a first visit to suss the place out and get the list of requirements. We entered the building, close to the old town and pleasant on the outside. So far so good. We were directed up a flight of stairs (no basement holes here!) and I wearily eyed the people lining each side of a corridor. It looked like a long wait. I spotted the ticket dispenser and took an 'A' ticket, for EU citizens. Mine was A68. I turned to the display and winced in anticipation of just how many people were in front of me. A67 flashed up. What? Just one person? I'm next? At the end of the long corridor was my room. The poor souls lining the corridor were all B tickets, from outside the EU and destined for a long wait. I walked past them, to the room at the end with the EU flag. It would have been even more impressive if the flag hadn't been stuck on with messy tape.

My number came up. We were greeted by a smiling pregnant lady (yes, they do exist) who found out quickly what we needed, gave me the relevant form, told me the list of documents I would need to attach the form and advised me not to bother including the letter from my work. 'You're from England, there's no problem, we just need to know you have enough means to look after yourself, it's the EU'. I wanted to take her head in my hands and kiss her forehead. I restrained myself.

The following day I returned, sauntered up the corridor, took my place behind one other person, was seen after ten minutes, handed over my completed form, passport photocopy, insurance card copy, photos (just two), proof that the bank transfer had been made and smiled at the pregnant lady. She took out a lot of important looking stamps, stamped everything thoroughly, signed a lot of other bits and handed me a piece of paper.

'This tells you when the card will be ready. Here's our number if you'd like to check a few days before.'

That was it.

Brussels take note: Poland is well known for its inability to carry out the simplest procedure without metres and metres of red tape. If they can sort my paperwork for me in just a couple of brief visits with zero problems, you have no excuse.


At 4/28/2006 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Aaron Fowles said...

Don't confuse Warsaw with the rest of the country. I've gone through this process twice, once in Czestochowa and once in Poznan.

Poznan was better than Cz-Wa, but it's still a completely different beast than in Warsaw. Long waits, multiple visits, shuffling never ends.

Life in the provinces can be so demanding.

At 4/28/2006 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Warsaw Crow said...

Sounds like it was one of those rare ruptures in the Polish State's Space-Time Continuum.

Cherish the memory.

At 4/30/2006 05:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... last an ex-pat that actually doesn't feel the need to bitch about Polish red-tape

At 5/01/2006 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Becca said...

Aaron, different rules apply to people from outside the EU. I truly felt sorry for the people who couldn't go to the same room as me. They all had huge folders of documents and resigned looks on their faces.

Crow, I will cherish the memory. Especially the next time I find myself queuing at the post office for hours on end.

Anon, yes, it is rare that an ex-pat doesn't bitch about Polish red tape. Unfortunately that's because a lot of the time there is far too much of it!

At 5/05/2006 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

I actually think Poland is a wimpy country in the red-tape department.
I've almost always been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is. Much easier to navigate than US bureacracy IME.

At 6/26/2006 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Sz! said...

As a fellow EU ex-pat, I have to say "Hurrah" for paperwork. :)
No seriously, I love all those rubber stamps and stuff. As a kid I always thought it would be cool to work in a library or post office so I could stamp things. Heh.
So, now I've been in Poland nearly 6 years and I still don't work in a library or a post office. I do, however, have a stamp with my name on it. YAY!

At 7/19/2006 01:44:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

You scare me SZ. Love rubber stamps?

You couldn't be American...

At 7/27/2006 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to live in Poland? seriously?

At 7/28/2006 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Gustav said...

Ever been here anon?

By the way, we've moved here.


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