Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Belgian Gauntlet

In order to live and work abroad there is a very tedious process to become legal over here. I have put off talking about this for a while, just because it took a while to overcome the frustration and absurdity of it all. Honestly, I love living in Belgium, but there are baffling parts that leave me scratching my head and missing the efficiency of the US government. Never thought you would hear that, did you?

In order for Kirk to live and work in Brussels this is a high-level timeline on our efforts to date:

Step 1: Wrestle with the Visa office in Atlanta, getting original marriage certificates, birth certificates, and even physician sign offs as to our health. Oh and FBI fingerprints and background checks too. Pretty funny we had to all go get fingerprinted at the police station! All documents must be notarized and then apostled (which is different than just a notary and involves sending these precious papers off to a special place to be officialized). This process also involves making tedious copies of everything and at least 4 trips to downtown Atlanta to drop off and pick up during the daily 2 hour window of acceptance.

Step 2: Navigate your way with baby and husband to town hall in central Brussels. This building LOOKS like the epitome of bureaucracy. Dingy, crowded, and full of numbers and service windows. Oh, and you must be there BEFORE 7 AM in order to retrieve a number or else you may not even get served on the day you are there. They stop giving out numbers at a certain point. We were lucky that E&Y had a relocation representative helping us through this 2nd step. Even with getting to the commune at the crack of dawn we weren't served til nearly 10 AM. At this point we turned over the exact same documents as we had for our Visas plus more identification photos and registration fees. And then asked to leave. Empty handed!

Step 3: Several weeks later the door buzzer rings. It is a policeman. I know from friends that this is the standard Belgian visit to be sure you are who you say you are and are living where you say you are living. I squeak out through the speakers that I will be down to meet the officer in a moment (in the best French I can muster) but by the time I get downstairs with Connor in tow the officer is gone. He has left a note in our mailbox that since we weren't there (even though I was!) that we needed to report to police station on a certain day, certain hours.

Step 4: We report to the police station. All three of us. We wait with the other fine upstanding citizens hanging out at the police station. An officer finally comes and gets us. We sit while he types and types. He asks us a few questions and we are asked to leave. Empty handed yet again.

Step 5: We receive a postcard that we are to report again to the central commune. Yippee! Could this be the end of the road?!? Oh wait. The postcard says we were supposed to be there yesterday. But we just got the postcard today. You're kidding, right?!?! I try for 90 minutes to get through on the phone to reschedule but wouldn't you know the "Department for Foreigners" has no one who speaks English so they keep hanging up on me. Kirk's company helps us secure another date.

Step 6: With another meeting date secured we arrive hopeful we won't leave empty handed again. It has been FIVE MONTHS since we started this never ending process so surely we are finally good to go. We again report to commune and wait nearly an hour to be seen. We AGAIN surrender all the same papers we have presented 3 times already and yet AGAIN they type it all into a computer, take more ID photos, and charge more fees. Then we are told to wait for another hour and then to return. What?!?!

Step 7: We return an hour later (Connor is now sorely in need of a nap!) and wait another 30 minutes before being seen. At the desk we are told all has now been "inscripted" (whatever that means) and we are to take some additional forms from the 4th floor to the 3rd. Hmmm. Not looking too good.

Step 8: We take forms downstairs and wait another 45 minutes. By this time most of Kirk's workday is eaten away. They take the forms and say, "Thanks. Now in a couple weeks you will receive another invitation to pick up your Residency ID Cards." And we are asked to leave, empty-handed yet again.

Step 9: We receive this return invitation date and told to pick up our Residency ID Cards ASAP!!! I wonder what is so urgent if it has taken 6 months already to move through this crazy, crazy process.

Step 10: Again, we report to the Central Commune. This time a bit cynical and bitter that anything will actually happen. When we get there there are 40 numbers ahead of our's. We wait 90 more minutes to pick up the cards. BUT WE FINALLY GOT THEM!!!!!

We are legal. However, I find myself wondering - after all of that work, what good are these ID cards anyway? I don't have any clue what I need a Residency ID Card for or how I will use it. I have lived just fine for 6 months without one. We were most excited in that we thought with this card we would be able to register our car to avoid paying for street parking any longer. But no, that will take another 5-8 weeks to be able to do.

We are seriously still supposed to: (1) obtain some cryptic travel card for Connor, in addition to her passport; (2) Kirk has registered for a European drivers license which will take another 5-8 weeks; (3) register our car for on street parking. I am not sure I have the stomach for it though. The inefficiency of it all leaves me a little nauseous. If we are only here for 18 months, what is the point of 8 months of steps just to get set up? Surely there is a better way!

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