(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Navigating the Bureaucracy

Beetlejuice, the movie, pictured Hell as one large DMV-type bureaucracy.  Romania has developed bureaucracy to the seventh ring of Dante's Inferno.  In typical Romanian fashion, after spending the day standing in line, I see a line (at the pretzel bakery) and run to get in it.  Also in typical Romanian fashion, a car almost runs over me on the sidewalk (see photo).

Here's the time and money we spent working on getting our Residence Visas:
  1. Before we left the US, we had to get certified copies of our marriage license and of Cami's birth certificate so Nancy could prove she was married to me and Cami could prove she was my daughter.  But the certified copies had to have another certification, the Hague Apostille, to certifiy that the signatures on the  originals were actually authorized to sign marriage and birth certificates.  I had to drive to Austin to the Secretary of State to get the Apostille.
    1.  $15
    2.  $10
    3.  $30
  2. Soon after we arrived, we left certified originals of our marriage license and Cami's birth certificate to be translated into Romanian by a certified translator. 
    1.  180 lei      $60
  3. We each had to get passport sized photos.
    1. 15 lei     $5
    2. 50 lei     $16
    3. 0 lei        $0
  4. We had to have a certified original and copy of our rental contract, to show residence in Romania.
  5. To start the day, we arrived at the Romanian National Health Insurance office at 7:30 to meet two other Fulbrighters.  To obtain a residency permit, we have to buy Romanian Health Insurance.  They don't want to go to the trouble to verify that our insurance back home really works.  Already had long lines, we took a number, #2024, for Room 1, and # 1054 for Room 2, just to hedge our bets.  We walked (in the dark) around to the back of the building to Room 1A and 1B. After waiting for maybe 30 minutes, our number came up on the electronic board.  We went in, filled out some papers, signed, stamped, paid and we were done.  Before 9:00!
  6. Then we had to go the front of the building, actually the other side, since the front steps and entry collonade were boarded shut.  We waded through a long line of people to a small room off the side of a large waiting room, the cashier's window.  We got in this line, waited for 30 minutes, and caught up on all the travels we each have had since our orientation.  Our stories were disturbed by the cashier who shouted, in Romanian, of course, "Silence! Silence!  We are counting money.  We must have silence for the money!"  We lowered our voices, but continued excited conversations about places to see. Paid 128 lei each.
    1. 128 lei    $42
    2. 128 lei    $42
    3. 128 lei    $42
  7. So next we have to go to the national bank to pay our consular fees and residency permit fees.  This was the only bank during Communist times, and staff apparently consider those the good old days...not real high on customer service.  We arrived as they opened.  Since we arrived just as they opened, we paid the consular fee, $240 lei, without delay.  Things were looking up.   
    1. 240 lei      $78
  8. Same bank, the next fee was set by the Romanian legislature in Euro (125 Euro) but the Romanian bank, the only place to pay such things, only takes lei.  So what you have to do is exchange your lei into Euros, paying the exchange fee, then exchange it back to lei, again paying the exchange fee.  The end result, other than additional fees for the bank, is a receipt that lists the Euro rate on the day that you paid the fee, so that the Visa office, another place, can verify that you paid 125 Euro based on the day that you paid.  Complicated enough?  Well, the bank had not posted its exchange rates by the time we finished with the first transaction, so they would not go through the gyrations.  
  9. So we went down the street to the next bank, exchanged lei for euro and back to lei, got our receipt and returned to the Romanian national bank.
    1. 18 lei      $6
    2. 18 lei       $6
  10. By this time, the line was all the way across the lobby.  We went to the lady that we first dealt with, no line, to find out that all the computers were down except one. So, back to the end of the line.  An hour later, we show the lady our exchange receipt and tried to pay the 507 lei that our receipt said was the equivalent of 125 euro. But by now their exchange rates were posted, and they said that we had to pay 517 lei.  No matter how much our Romanian friend argued, we had to exhange the lei to Euro, back to lei, paying fees at each transaction...again. But they refused to give us a receipt showing the euro rate for the visa office!
    1. 18 lei      $6
    2. 18 lei       $6
    3. 517 lei     $168
    4. 517 lei     $168
  11. Then Dan went to the Postal Service to pay his work permit fee of 1 lei.  Only, when I got there the lady told me it was 5 lei. I argued in vain, and paid 5 lei.
    1. 5 lei    $2
  12. Next we had to go to a Notary, sort of like a lawyer in Romania, to get a document certifying that Dan is married to only one wife, Nancy, and Cami is my daughter, and I give her and Cami permission to live with me in Romania.  For this document they needed the translated marriage license (# 1), our rental contract (# 3), and a sworn statement from me that I am only married to one wife, and this is her, her name is Nancy Ratliff, and this is Nancy Ratliff (show the passport), and I give her permission to live with me.  So now we had to wait for 2 hours while they put together the documents in Romanian.  When we came back, I had to demonstrate that I understood this legal document  (or else I would have to pay to have it translated by an official translator!) and state what I understand of it.  I successfully faked it, and on we go.
    1. 60 lei     $20
  13. Next visit was the medical clinic.  The Romanian government doesn't want to import any sick people, so we had to get a medical exam.  A cab drive later, we waited in a narrow hallway for half an hour.  When we were ushered into the doctor's office, she asked each of us, "Do you have any health problems?"  No.  "Passport, please."   Lots of paperwork.  All this for no fee!
    1. 0 lei  $0
  14. So the next day we go to the Visa office and hope and pray that all these papers are in order.  We have to show them that I have a job in Romania (Fulbright contract), I have a place to live in Romania (rental contract), I paid my fees (Consular fee is waived for Fulbright, #6;  Postal receipt, # 10), I have Romanian health insurance (# 4), I am healthy (medical form, #12). Then Nancy and Cami, since they are not employed and possibly a drag on Romanian society, have to show that I will let them live with me (#11), maybe show the marriage license and birth certificate translations (# 1), show they paid their fee....yada, yada, yada. 
  15. When it was time for Dan to get a photo for the residency permit, they laughed and said, "you're too tall for our camera.  Bend down."  We all had a good laugh, then they said, more seriously, "no really, bend down." So I did a half squat, everyone laughing, then they said, "don't smile." "Really, don't smile." My reply was, "I don't know how to not smile." Again, serious voice, "Really, don't smile."  So I clenched my lips, puffed my cheeks out a little to try to get rid of the smile.  The camera operator took the picture while I was doing this.  They all broke out laughing, then serious lady in an inmpressive uniform said, "That will do. Next."  
  16. I can hardly wait to see my residency permit!

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