Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Lesson in Patience - Navigating the Spanish Bureaucracy

We get asked all the time about whether we are planning to work while we are out here. Our residence permits do not allow us to do so, but even if they did, I’m not sure how we would be able to handle the logistics if we were working. I guess that’s where relo companies come in! In a masochistic way, I guess this is part of the adventure, but everything has proven to be quite challenging. Our first test of this came when we went to register for an N.I.E. card, which would formally establish us as residents of the area. We were told that we had to go to Denia, a neighboring town. It took us most of the first day just to find the correct police station (the national one, not the local one and not the Guardia civil). Upon arrival they were closing for the day (at about 1:40 pm!) and they told us to return tomorrow. The next day we showed up around 11:00 am to a huge line, which we were told had hardly moved since 6 in the morning. People had been waiting for days and were still getting turned away at closing time. We met a nice British couple, Caren and Steve who were trying to do the same thing and they suggested an option of paying one of the local advice experts to help manage the process and expedite the waiting in line. Rather than wasting further time, we all left and decided to explore other routes. As it turned out, the process was quite muddled and nobody was clear on what to do. The local advice expert only handled EU residents and was not familiar with the process for US citizens, which was apparently different. We came to learn that the paperwork we had received from the Spanish consulate in LA the last day before our departure turned out to be the golden ticket. Upon consultation with Spanish lawyers, advice consultants and local businesses, we came to learn that we already had our NIE numbers and did not need to pick up an additional card. In fact, we would have likely been turned away had we waited 6-8 hours in Denia, or worse, told to go from there to Alicante only to wait there and be turned away again. Yikes. With our NIE paperwork in hand, we could begin the process of getting cell phones, signing rental contracts, buying a car, and enrolling in schools…well not quite yet. We still had to register with the local Javea municipal government to get a certificate called “empadronamiento” – which was required for public school enrollment (Casey only)and car purchases. For that we had to prove we were living here long term and needed a rental contract in hand. After several tries in line with improper paperwork, we finally got a temporary certificate so I could get Casey into school. From there it was off the Casa de Cultura, where we then discovered that we needed to procure Casey’s birth certificate. Wait a minute…I thought we needed that for visas and passports only. As it turned out, this was one of the items that did not make it into our travel folder and even worse, was now packed into the bowels of a Bekins storage unit facility in the US. AAArrrrggghhh! This resulted in several days scrambling with the Ventura County Recorder and ultimately the Spanish Consulate who were kind enough to fax over a copy for us. So with papers in hand, it was back to the Casa de Cultura to finish off the details. I then received a certificate to bring to Casey’s school, where I learned of yet ANOTHER detail which I did not have – an SIP card from the Public Health Center (Centro de Salud). So another several hours of confusion – apparently a SIP card is a bit more complicated for US vs. EU citizens – I was able to procure the necessary paperwork and went back to the school. Note that the office is open only from 9-10 (I’d like to have that job!), so there were big lines and lots of translational challenges, but suffice it to say that Casey will be starting school tomorrow. Whew…I’m exhausted just writing about this!

No comments: