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My Country for a Passport! (Part I)

April 5, 2010

Fun fact of the week: Babies cry in the key of A

Before our wedding ceremony in Scotland, my wife and I had to give our birth certificates to the local authority to prove who we were.

Neither of us had this at hand, so we had to ask for the original certificates from our respective governments. I ordered mine from the Australian government’s website, and it arrived by registered post one week later from Canberra.

In Bulgaria, you couldn’t order a birth certificate over the web. Instead, my wife asked her mother to get one from the local authorities where she was born.

There they refused to give my mother-in-law the birth certificate, stating that this document was confidential, despite the fact that, obviously, she was present at her daughter’s birth and pretty much generated all the info on the said certificate.

She therefore had to get a power of attorney signed from Maria. Now, powers of attorney are not a big deal – you go to any notary public and they will do it for you in a matter of seconds. Not for the Bulgarian authorities, however – the only power of attorney they would accept was one signed by the Bulgarian consul in Switzerland who, very conveniently, sits in the Bulgarian Embassy in Bern.

We live in Geneva which is about a two-and-a half hour train ride from Bern and the Embassy is only open for three hours in the morning on working days, which basically means that Maria has to take a day off work, get up early and manage to do everything before the Embassy closes.

Luckily, in countries like Bulgaria, there is always “the other way” – a visit by Maria’s mother to the civil affairs office revealed that it was currently headed by a primary school classmate of Maria’s. The power of attorney was no longer needed and we had the birth certificate shortly after (well, after it was first sent to Sofia to be officially translated, and then legalised by a separate government department…call this “shortly” a month).

The saga was much longer (and did involve a trip to the consul in Bern this time) after we got married and Maria was trying to change her surname on all her Bulgarian documents. It also resulted in a very puzzled Scottish Borders registrar whom we asked for various “To Whom It May Concern” declarations she had never had to draft before. Too painful to even go into.

With some upcoming trips to take, we now have to get Alika a passport. As she is entitled to both nationalities, we thought it expedient to get her one from Australia and one from Bulgaria.

The Australian procedure is quite straightforward and, considering the importance of a first passport, still rather quick – I first had to send off some forms to the Australian High Commission in London to ascertain Alika’s Australian citizenship (takes up to 5 working days), and once this is acquired, I can apply for her passport in the Australian Consulate in Geneva (up to 10 working days). Not once do I have to show Alika to an Embassy official. All that sufficed was to provide a couple of passport photos signed on the back by an Aussie friend who only had to write that this super cute kid was in fact mine.

We just got back from the Bulgarian Embassy in Bern. Mentally exhausted.

We took Alika with us because the Embassy insists that they see her in the flesh, as this obviously proves that she is our daughter. We dolled her up and all but they did not even bother to look at her when we went there.

First, Maria had to obtain a second original Swiss birth certificate, which had to be additionally apostilled by the State Chancellery in Geneva and then signed off by the Bulgarian consul. Then she had to fill in a bunch of forms on behalf of Alika. These forms were general forms for all situations, not just for registering a baby. Hence, the Embassy worker angrily kept sending Maria back to the waiting room to refill them in as there was information missing that the Embassy required, but it was not actually asked for on the form. Maria stoically kept her cool.

Then I had to sign a couple of legal documents; one was a power of attorney form and the other, I have no idea. I couldn’t read either form as they were in Bulgarian. Maria tried pointing this out to the Embassy worker but she just said “it doesn’t matter, just show him where to sign”. Being a good disciplined lawyer, Maria mumbled under her breath “you do realise those cannot be legally valid then?” when giving them to me. I signed them anyway.

The couple in front of us, also with a newborn, tried to give a box of expensive chocolates to the Embassy worker presumably to speed things up, which was refused because, Maria reckons, there was an Australian in the room watching. I didn’t realise I was a corruption crusader.

We handed over a wad of money (with a receipt) to pay for a temporary passport (valid 6 months, one-entry only) that should arrive to our Geneva address in a week or so. Note that this is neither proof of Bulgarian nationality nor a proper passport, but merely allows Alika to enter Bulgaria – a passport can only be applied for in Bulgaria. Good luck to Bulgarians born in New Zealand or Chile or Canada.

Only once we are in Bulgaria, we can start the long and sanity-challenging procedure to obtain Alika’s passport. It starts with translating and legalising – again – Alika’s much stamped already birth certificate, this time in the consular office in Sofia.

Then we have to apply to the Ministry of Justice to issue her with an “EGN” (roughly, a national security number; takes four – five working days). Then that security number needs to be registered in the police database (takes 14 days). Then the procedure moves to the municipality where Maria was born, where they confiscate Alika’s Swiss birth certificate (thank God we asked for two originals!) and give us a Bulgarian one instead (now, I expect this one to be very handy). Once we have her Bulgarian birth certificate, we can go back to Sofia and apply for her passport.

Being a first passport, we cannot use the fast (3 working days) or express (24 hours) procedure. Oh, no – only the “ordinary service” is available to us. That is 22 working days.

All this should take about two months. Unless we find “the other way”. Or, more reliably, unless we ask the Australian consulate in Geneva to save an Aussie citizen in distress and send Alika’s Australian passport to Bulgaria by DHL.

Otherwise, we’re stuck in Bulgaria for a while.

So, if anyone knows someone working in the passport office in Sofia, we have a box of chocolate they may want!

To be continued…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. ella permalink
    April 5, 2010 1:12 pm

    HAHAHAHAA I can’t believe someone tried to offer a box of chocolates

    They might’ve had more success had they of offered a goat..

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