I wrote on the importance of getting your documents together and doing good research on what you will need in your new country in my post on Documents for Moving Abroad. But let me tell you about my own, recent bureaucratic nightmare in trying to re-confirm my Polish citizenship.
Here Are the Facts:
- I was born and raised in Poland
- My parents, my sister, and I immigrated to the USA many years ago
- I am now a US citizen
- I have been married and divorced and had two children in the USA
- I have a desire to reaffirm my Polish citizen after 30+ years of living abroad
To the casual, naïve reader, this may seem simple. I was born and raised in Poland, after all, how hard can it be? Well, let me tell you about it.
Here are the major problems I encountered:
Problem #1: When I moved to the US, I was only a child of 15, and since we immigrated, I did not have a regular Polish passport, instead my sister and I were listed on my mother’s.
Problem #2: The Political climate (and government) has changed dramatically, since I left. Remember, the iron curtain fell and the cold war ended. What it all means is that the rules have changed.
Problem #3: Since I have been here so many years, I did not have any of the newly required Polish papers, like a birth certificate, their version of SSN, not to mention passport
Problem #4: I have had name changes since I’ve moved to the USA and so now I need legal documentation of those changes.
Problem #5: The US legal documents are in English but I need them all in Polish because that’s the only thing the Polish government will accept.
Problem #6: All my US documents need to be apostilled before they can be used by the Polish government.
So, here is the full story:
In order to be legally recognized as a Polish citizen and get a Polish passport, I first have to reaffirm my Polish citizenship. The next step will be obtaining a Polish version of a SSN and then finally a Polish passport. So, at this point, I am only concentrating on the first step: affirming my citizenship.
I am lucky in the sense that I have family in Poland and they were able to obtain all the legal documents I needed – mind you, in US this would not be possible because you have to request everything yourself. The list was extensive: legal birth certificate, my parents’ legal marriage certificate (yes from 47+ years ago in communist Poland), copies of both my parents’ Polish passports, and a copy of my mother’s original passport that she entered the US with. All of these had to be official or certified in Poland. Not only was this a pain to obtain but can you imagine if I had to try to do this myself from USA? Yep, I was lucky my family could do it. So, this took care of problems 1-3.
Now here is where it gets really tricky: I now have to deal with the Polish Consulate in Chicago to resolve the USA side problems 4 – 6. I obtained all the official documents I needed but I had no idea how to get them legally translated. So, I looked on the Consulate’s website but that was as clear as mud. Only thing it really said was that the documents needed to be translated to Polish and then the translations needed to be certified by the Consulate.
OK, great, I asked how to get them legally translated. Two phone calls and two emails to the Consulate later, I learned these three conflicting things: (1) I need a sworn, legal translator to translate the documents then send them in, (2) I can translate them myself and the Consulate will certify them (and of course charge me an outrageous amount of money for it), (3) they will translate them, I don’t need to worry about it (just pay more ridiculous amounts of money) but I have to submit them in person (I don’t live in Chicago, I live 5 hours away).
Sigh, at this point, I don’t know which to believe. I am afraid that if I take time off work and make the trip to Chicago and appear at the Consulate in person, I will be told yet another thing by yet another person and will be sent home without getting anything done. URGH!
So, here is the moral of my story: Do everything you possibly can to cover your bases on the documents you will need BEFORE you leave your country. The bureaucracy of governments is astonishing. USA is bad enough but others are no better and many are worse. It is a nightmare dealing with Consulates, lawyers, sworn translators, and so on. AVOID it if you can – I can’t stress this enough.
I have heard horror stories about obtaining visas and/or citizenship in Latin American countries as well. I can tell you that before we move, I will make sure I have everything apostilled, whether I need it or not – just in case.
How about you? What has your experience been like dealing with visas, citizenships, residencies, and other legal matters abroad?