Moving to another country = so. much. paperwork.

Ghent: My almost-permanent home!

I’m sure that Belgium isn’t unique in it’s frustratingly convoluted public administration system (though if you watch this video, you begin to understand why it’s so convoluted) and I understand that immigration policy is necessarily complicated. But it’s still a frustrating experience.

So remember when I wrote about the hassle of getting my fingerprints taken so I could get an FBI background check? There were a handful of other documents I also collected while I was home that I was told I would need once I arrived back in Belgium. This included such basic documents as a medical check-up and the background check, but I also had to travel to Harrisburg (2 hours from my hometown) to get apostiles for both my diploma and birth certificate. In total, I probably spent over $100, once you break down the processing fees, administrative fees, and general cost of the items (and not counting the trip to Harrisburg, since I turned it into a day trip to Gettysburg with Mom and Dad, who covered most of the costs — Thanks guys!).

Once I got back to Belgium, guess how many of these documents I actually needed.

That’s right. None.

Upon my return, I first registered in the city hall as a tourist. That came with its own annoyances, particularly that the woman who was helping me used four (four) of my best-ever passport photos (i.e. all I had left) to put on four copies of a document that no one has ever asked to see (and is now expired, so no one will ever see them). Then Joery and I had to register as a couple, which is similar to a civil union in the U.S., so that I could apply for residence status based on our relationship.

As it turns out, the only document I actually needed for legalizing our relationship was the one I didn’t get while I was in the US. It was the affidavit of celibacy (that name still cracks me up), which I ended up having to go to Brussels twice to get. Once to actually go to the US Embassy and swear that I am not married or in a serious relationship with anyone other than Joery (seriously, I had to hold up my right hand and everything) and the second time to go to the Belgian Department for the Interior because I didn’t have a stamp on it. Why no one mentioned that this stamp was necessary before I went to the Embassy, I don’t know.

To make a very long process short, after registering as a couple, having two visits by the police to verify we were, in fact, living together, and waiting for the police to send the documents back to the city hall,  I was finally able to produce the “samenwoning” (literally “living together”) contract, along with a few other docs, to the immigration office so they could issue me a temporary permit.

So the process that started in January is now (semi)over in May.

Example of one of my sweet photos from Paris. Yes, I was gripping the ferris wheel. We were the only ones on and it wouldn’t stop and it creaked a lot and I freaked out, just a little.

We still have to get my permanent card, which will be valid for 5 years, and to do that there are still more documents we have to collect. They include proof of health insurance, proof of a suitable residence, proof we have a durable relationship (meaning we have to prove we’ve been together for at least two years. I have some sweet time-stamped photos from my first visit to Belgium in 2006 I’m going to send in. Joery ruining all my awesome European photos with time stamps finally worked in his favor) and proof of financial means. We have an appointment today  in three weeks (our insurance company is kind of dragging their feet on processing our request) to turn in the aforementioned documents. This means — taking the 3-month processing time into consideration — I will finally be a permanent resident of Belgium — by the end of September.

Now, this experience differs for everyone. I think the process for me went rather smoothly (aside from a few minor setbacks, like not having the proper stamp on my affidavit of celibacy and needing to wait a  month or so between every appointment), but this can be attributed to a few things: Joery being a Belgian citizen, me being an American citizen, us having been registered as living at the same address for the last two years (which makes proving our relationship rather easy), Joery owning his apartment, us being in Belgium, which I hear has rather relaxed immigration procedures, among others. Every  situation is evaluated individually (which also means you can’t just call the city hall beforehand to talk about your case, you must make an appointment to get every stupid question answered. And just because you have an appointment doesn’t mean you don’t have to wait for an hour, or so.)

The best advice I can give (if you happen to be going through or trying to go through the same thing) is to stay flexible. Things will go wrong. You will have the wrong (or completely unnecessary) documents. You will have to suffer through long waits in order to get an appointment. You may also have to use all your awesome passport pictures on the document no one will see, leaving the zombie-photos for your permanent card (and no, I can’t just pry them off — I tried. They have a stupid stamp on them). Staying calm is hard. I had my fair share of mental breaks, particularly when my tourist visa expired and I still couldn’t get an appointment at the city hall. But as long as you satisfy all the requirements, it should be a rather painless process (at least in hindsight…nothing was that bad).

So good luck. And if you have any questions, please direct them to the city hall of your domicile.

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4 thoughts on “Moving to another country = so. much. paperwork.

  1. Hi!
    I’m also moving to Flanders to be with my bf. I ran across ur blog while I was googling an example of what an ‘affidavit of celibacy’. Did u end up having to give a written affidavit of celibacy? If so, what does it look like? I’m not having much luck finding an example.

    Thanks!
    Christine

    • I was able to get the affidavit at the US Embassy in Brussels. Basically, it’s just a form you have to fill out (Affidavit – Verklaring Onder Ede) with your basic information (name, birth date, passport number, parent’s names and address). On the back, there are two boxes you can check, one that says you’ve never been married and another that says you have (if you have, you have more information you have to fill in). Then you go into a little room, raise your hand and swear the information you’re providing is legitimate. Then you sign the form, and they stamp it.

      Next, you have to go to the Federale Overheidsdienst Buitenlandse Zaken so they can authenticate the form (basically, attach a piece of paper with another stamp). You need to make an appointment to go to the Embassy, but you can go to the Overheidsdienst between certain hours without an appointment.

      If you’re still in the U.S., I never figured out where you can get the document there. But once you go to the Embassy in Brussels they immediately know what you need. Depending on where you’re moving to (big city/little city), it may be easier to get the document once you’re here. I live in Ghent, and it takes roughly a month to even get an appointment at the immigration office, so it’s plenty of time to go to Brussels and get the form.

      Hope this helps!

  2. I was laughing through this whole post bc its like I am reading my own post or something. I came prepared to Brussels with all my documents (even the affidavit!!!) but when we went to the office to register as a couple, I was told the document was invalid. So now I am going to the US embassy on Wednesday and getting the affidavit even though I have one from October…I am basically starting about the same time you did but I will be doing all of it in brussels so I am hoping it goes smoothly.

    I am curious as it has been a few years since this posting. Were you able to find a job once you received your residence card?

    • Ah, I don’t actively update this site anymore, which is why everything is super old. After I got my residence card I was pretty lucky in that I found a job right away. I had done an internship while I was a student in Belgium and after I got my residence card the organisation hired me. I’ve been working at the same place for a bit over four years now. I think how quickly it will go depends heavily on your background, language skills, how big a network you already have here and what type of job you’re looking for… it’s a bit difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer.

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