Hey, peeps. A joyous 4/20 to you all. Thought there'd be no better way to spend a day typically filled with relaxation and apathy than to provide a blog post of one of the most drawn out and stressful processes of my life to date. To say it’s been awhile since I've last written is a bit of an understatement. That three year gap of writing (publicly in this blog - been ‘gramming pretty regularly) is due to one move across the pond (and a temporary move back), a move to the Great Lakes Region, teaching public school for the first (and last) time, teaching college, getting married to the love of my life, and lots of healthy doses of imposter syndrome and pigeon-hole-viewed induced stress. Wheeeeeeeee.
Thought it’d be a good idea to drop some ideas on the whole hellish visa process since I was completely new to it and typically, my rides through things are a little different than the status quo. All of these tips are in relation to the country for which I as an American citizen need a visa, Bulgaria.
1. Double check and cross check everything with everyone while not giving away too much information. One of the many steps to getting the visa included furnishing my real diplomas (so second copies from my school because I wanted to keep my originals) not only with notarization from the state in which they were issued, but with their own apostille, followed up with apostilled translations from an embassy-approved translator. The New York Bulgarian consulate said that without a doubt I had to be there in person to drop off the documents and could not do it in the mail. Chicago said pshyeah you can do it through the mail $37 plz with return envelope. (Considering Chicago was my closest embassy at a three-hour flight away at that time, I think you can deduce who I went through.) Of course I didn’t tell either end that I had spoken with the other consulate and got a completely different answer. Throughout your process, just remember that it’s all a game, subjective to the max while appearing to be objective, the rules don’t matter, and you can weasel your way around a lot if you do way too much research and find the right people.
2. Whatever document you need to supply them, just assume you need it furnished with apostille. I haven’t even begun the process for Joseph (my husband) so that he can legally be over there with me, but my steps have been so convoluted and slow that I haven’t even begun to think what all documentation he would need. Apostille is given AFTER notarizations of documents, i.e. second set of diplomas taken to Secretary of State (I had to find a friend in Boston willing to go to the secretary of state for me with an official letter I had signed stating that it was okay they could do the process for me), FBI background check from a channeler then sent to ANOTHER type of channeler for apostille. Haven’t mentioned the pricing of all this yet, but you’ll safely need around $1,000 saved up to be able to do this entire visa process, assuming that a round trip plane ticket/gas to a consulate is included in that price.
3. You DON’T have to be in the US to get your visa, even if you don’t have another visa to chill out in another country to begin with. Neighboring countries like Romania, Turkey, Albania, Croatia, basically all of the Balkans have Bulgarian embassies where you can get your visa. But there’s a catch: You need an official letter stating why you are getting them at that embassy and not an embassy in your home country. You need damn good reasons, or at least it would seem so on paper, so that when you apply for the visa in that other country and they then TAKE your passport so that you can’t leave while the process is happening, it’ll hopefully go smoothly.
Quick but important aside: my friend told me her experience with getting the letter granting permission to get her visa in Romania instead of heading back to the States. There were guards who didn’t speak English (or were claiming to not speak English) at the embassy in Sofia and would not let her in no matter what. So she spoke Russian to them, which isn’t Bulgarian, but they can understand each other, and the guards STILL would not let her in the building. Finally, on the verge of tears (and she’s a tough cookie) and after an hour of a nice helpful Bulgarian translating and convincing them to let her in, she got in and found the woman she needed. Mary had her reasons, but they didn’t seem at all concerned with why she wanted to get the visa in Romania - they simply gave her the letter with almost no explanation. Had this been a different embassy with a woman not as well versed in dealing with a three-nation tango of visa applications, she may not have gotten the letter at all. So see, there are no rules. Just find the right people.
Not to put a damper on any revelations or excited planning you may be scheming up, but these countries are convenient not only because they are close, but because they are NOT Schengen. Say something goes awry and (god forbid) what should have taken one month now takes three. If you’re not an EU citizen, you need to leave the Schengen territory BEFORE your 90 day period ends (which is again completely subjective to the border guard if you’ve been in and out of the territory and have no “official” starting date of when you were first there). These countries are cheaper than what you’d find in the Schengen territories, closer to Bulgaria, and have no limit as to how long you can stay (from what I understand, kindly correct me if I’m wrong).
4. Assume that nothing is on time and that something will always be pushed back. I’ve come to understand more intimately these ideas of the American work ethic and the Mediterranean leisure approach. They are very different and in many ways not compatible. You want something done in the States, you pay the money and find the right people, it’ll get done. Your employer applies for your work permit in, say, early January, so they can do the background check before you get there in February, you’ll get there in February and find out over a month later that you need to leave the country because the embassy can’t do the background check while you’re in the country… because it was supposed to be done in January. And they fucked up. That kind of thing. Expect it a lot.
5. People are the nicest, even (infuriatingly) though they may try to calm down situations that need to be riled up so that there can be necessary change. I mean, why fix and cover the widening holes in the sidewalk grates when you can just step around them? You just have to look where you’re going! *eyeroll and heavy sigh* I feel like Scandinavians would go absolutely nuts in the Balkans while simultaneously finding it the most fun with the warmest people they’ve been around for a long time. Who knows if that’s accurate. Those are just my observations. Watch your step, metaphorically and literally.
6. Apparently you have your employer provide a lease agreement for your visa interview because honestly how would you safely set that up over the internet while you’re not over there. Thankfully, the opera house I work at is used to doing this kind of thing because, brilliantly enough, you’re supposed to have all your housing squared away and set up before you do the visa application and interview, before you even know if your visa will be accepted, during a process for which you do not know the duration of that can take months. “Hey, landlord across the ocean I paid money to judged off photos I saw online, could you maaaaybe move the move-in date back another month? Sorry, the visa is taking longer than expected.” Brilliant. If your employer can’t do this kind of thing, my only advice would be to find something super reputable, which can be hard if you’re going to a country like Bulgaria where the internet is somehow still something people are getting used to (Joe emailed a luthier back in October and just received a reply this April). And where none of them really speak any other language other than Russian or maybe German (if you’re lucky). Cheers to google translate.
There’s more - I know there’s more, but I’ll add more as I remember (cringingly) more details and keep you updated on the forever project aka visa-rep-tape-extraordinaire-I wish-I lived-in-the-’70s-before-all-this-bullshit application.
Love and light, y’all <3