It’s a funny thing (okay, not at all funny when you are up to your neck in it), but government red tape is essentially the same every where you go. We are now proud boat owners with our boat docked in the Mediterranean. Our dream is to spend 5 or so years sailing all the amazing places located here. This part of the world is a sailor’s paradise. For me, I get to explore a variety of countries with amazing histories, architectural styles, and varied cultures. I love to see how other people live and want to experience it first hand. I’m here…..this should be pretty easy, right?
Here comes the fun. As an American citizen, we are only allowed to stay 3 months, and then we must leave for 3 months before we can return. Hmmmm, that’s just not going to work for me. So let me take you back in time a little bit…..
For those of you who may not know, Dan’s parents are first generation immigrants from Croatia. This makes it possible (in theory, anyway) for Dan to become a dual citizen. For the last few years, Dan has spent countless hours pouring over websites, Internet forums, and various other sources to see what paperwork is required and the steps we need to take to accomplish this task. He spent months acquiring all the necessary paperwork from his parents to prove their connection to Croatia. Enter red tape, crazy challenge number one. When entering the U.S., the spelling of their names (first and last) were “Americanized” thereby no longer matching their original Croatian paperwork (birth certificate, etc). Dan had to now find and/or file legal paperwork to prove that the different spelling of the names did in fact belong to the same person.
Of course this was just the beginning of the problems. Our next hurdle came when establishing Dan’s identity. All of Dan’s identifications (passport, driver’s license, etc.) listed him by the formal version of his name. Unfortunately, his birth certificate named him using the very casual form of his name. Nope, we have no way to know this is the same person! Seriously?! Dan had to then file legal paperwork to formally change his name on his birth certificate so that all his documents matched. Another challenge conquered!
The next challenge was for me. In order to establish my identity, and connection to Dan by marriage, we had to have a foreign apostille attached to my documents. This required original documents being sent off to a place that notarizes documents on an international level.
Dan and I went back and forth between the decision to apply for full citizenship or just a resident visa. We attended several local consulate visits where his paperwork was analyzed, and we were told what additional things we either needed or needed to do. On our final visit, the consulate representative misunderstood Dan’s status (having both parents from Croatia) and told him he needed to take the history exam. He told us to take the exam and head over to the coffee shop to complete it (and reminded us to take our phone….wink, wink). Message received. The exam was only 15 questions, but they were 15 very long questions written all in Croatian. Sweat began to bead on our brows….yep, we were in big trouble. We quickly divided up the test and both began to google translate the questions. At this rate, it was going to take us 2 days just to read the test. The guy told Dan he passed, but it would be much easier to apply in person when we got to Croatia. Oh how wrong he was!
So fast forward to my solo trip to Croatia. As you will recall, Dan had 1 week here with me to try and get done as much as possible before he headed back to the states. My residency was number one on the list since I would be here a month and a half before we returned together, which would blow up half of my stay allowance (and you know how fast bureaucracies work!) We headed to the police station with a good friend who would translate for us. We filled out the applications (in Croatian….which meant everyone around us was watching our friend write out our statements so that we could copy them onto our application). After waiting in line for over an hour, it was our turn with the now highly agitated lady who has been yelled at by numerous people before us. She looked at our paperwork, threw it back at us and told us it was no good. Dan and his sister are listed in his father’s will as the owners of the house (the address we were using as our reason for being in Croatia). Here was the rub….the apostille we had done on our marriage certificate was now more than 6 months old and no longer valid. Okay, no problem. Our friend explained that I was named as joint owner of our boat, which resides in the marina, and I would be living there. Nope! No good! We already told her we were living in the house and can’t change our story. We walked away frustrated and defeated.
You don’t really believe that, do you? We were very frustrated, but we regrouped and re-strategized. At this point, we have gone from the mainland of Croatia to the island of Cres where both the house and the boat were residing. Prior to leaving our friend on the mainland, we completed new applications using our boat as our legal residence while overseeing the renovations of the house. By doing it this way, I no longer needed to show a legal connection to Dan because we were both on the title to the boat. Ha! We got this. One small hitch (come on, you saw that coming), we were required to have a translator with us at the police station which was a 45 minute drive to another town on the island. Our contractor and his family to the rescue! His daughter called her cousin who agreed to meet us at the police station the next morning. As we began the process again, new complications arose. Of course this was not going to be a one shot deal! Silly me for being hopeful. It took a great deal of conversation and explanation with the marina agents to convince the woman that we were in fact living in the marina on our boat. Next problem, the contract had Dan’s name on it and not mine (they only issue the contract to one name). No biggie, he was still owner of a home, so we’d just switch the marina contract to me. Oh, and the contract was in English, and they wanted it in Croatian. Off we run, back to the marina (45 minutes away). New contract printed and signed, and we once again raced back to the police station (adding to the challenge was the fact that they are only open until 1 p.m. each weekday). Wait! We have another complication….the marina did not stamp the contract! Doesn’t matter that we have one already in their possession with a stamp (Croatian authorities LOVE official stamps on things). This would require yet another trip back into town 🙁
At this point, all of our paperwork has been submitted, and we wait. A couple of weeks later, 2 very official letters came for us at the marina. Shockingly (no…not really) they were written in Croatian. I politely asked the lady at the marina reception to tell me what the letters said. She explained that we had an appointment at the police station, for an interview, in one week and we were not to miss it or our visa would be denied. Holy crap! Dan was already back to work in the states, but we were both required to be there. I quickly called Dan and explained the situation. Dan pretty much dropped everything and arranged a quick trip back out over the 3 day holiday weekend. We also decided that he and I would travel home together rather than me flying home alone 3 days later.
Dan made the very long and painful journey back out to the island just in time for our appointment the next day. Now, a new problem has arisen (bet you thought a happy ending was close at hand). Our first translator was not available, and neither were the few other resource people we have relied upon. Just when we thought we would be standing on the street corner pleading for someone to translate for us, our contractor’s daughter came through for us again, and her friend agreed to translate for us. We spent 2 hours going through the paperwork and making statements which were translated into Croatian. In the end, we were told that several of our documents needed to be translated into Croatian and all of this had to be submitted within 10 days. Mind you, we are flying home in two. The outline of dates was very tight for the next few steps, and we were basically told that if we missed any of the deadlines then we were dead in the water….game over.
Our wonderful new friend scrambled to make a number of phone calls to get our last pieces of paperwork translated. Sooooo, there is one official translator on the island (of course you can’t just have anyone translate the papers….that’s not official!) Here it comes….the translator was out of the country for the next 3 days….At that point I thought I was going to cry. Our friend calmly told us not to worry. She would take the papers to the translator, pick them up, and then deliver everything to the station on the last day they were due (thereby buying us maximum time before we have to come back again). She also ran us over to the small photo shop to get our pictures done ahead of time so that we would be ready to go. We were told we would receive a letter of approval, and we would have 8 days to appear back at the station to finalize the process. Are you kidding me???
We anxiously waited as each step of the process and deadline came and went….so far, so good. Our friend took care of everything, and now we had to wait for the official letter. The lady who had processed our papers had given us a rough idea of when to expect the letter (which would go to the marina….not the U.S.) As the date drew near and we had received no news, we decided to go ahead and book another very quick trip out to Croatia.
The first thing we did when we arrived was to check for mail….nothing! We checked again the next day with a different person working in reception. She told us that a letter arrived 5 or 6 days ago, but the postman would not leave it because we were not there. OH NO! The lady in reception was kind enough to call the police station and explain the situation. The person at the station did some checking and told us to come right away. We raced down to the town (remember, 45 minutes away) where the poor woman had to fill out all our special forms by hand…again (apparently this was what was in the letter). We raced next door to the post office to buy a series of official stamps (yep, we are back to that whole stamp thing) to go on our documents. Now we were racing the clock, and our hearts were pounding. So close, but you know how that goes. We submitted our stamps, our pictures, our fingerprints (and our first born, if need be)…..and we were finally done! Our official residence cards would arrive at the police station for us to pick up in 3 weeks. Success! So 3 months of our 6 month visa was used up on completing the process….but we are now official and legal…woo hoo!
On a side note, I arrived back in Croatia a week and a half before Dan and raced down to pick up our cards on Monday. After all, the way this had played out, I was terrified they would send the cards back if we didn’t come get them when they arrived. Was this a smooth process? Of course not!!! They would only give me mine. He needed to come in person. I told her when he would arrive to pick his up, and she was very put out that he was not coming the next day. I explained to her he would be arriving from America over the weekend, and we would come first thing Monday. She curtly told me okay and sent me on my way. I can’t WAIT to go through the renewal process! NOT! But I promise to spare you that story 🙂