An American Couple in Delft
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Dealing with the Russian Consulate

Since long before we got to Europe, Lynn has had a strong desire to go to Russia. This goes back to the time when we were kids and we quaked in our boots at anything Russian and worried about Khrushchev burying us. We saw all those buildings on television that looked so strange to American eyes and those visions had a lasting effect on her. The biggest problem for us with going to Russia, though, has been dealing with the Russian Consulate.

Usually when we travel, we make our own arrangements but because Russia was several orders of magnitude beyond our comfort zone (language, bureaucracy), we thought it best to go with a tour company. We found one located in England that offered a tour we were interested in. As part of their package, the tour company provides many of the services needed for obtaining a visa but only for people who live in the UK. The Russians require an invitation, proof of health insurance, and an application for the visa. The tour company sent us the invitation and blank applications, and we contacted the insurance company for their documentation. At this point, please note that the tour company provided the invitation. But suppose I wanted to visit my cousin Mikhail in Moscow on my own. (For those snooping through here, I have no relatives anywhere in Russia!) Where do I get the invitation? I donít know but itís certainly much more difficult than having the tour company provide it. Also, upon arriving there, we have three days to register with the police. The hotel will do that for us as part of the service. But what would happen if we stayed at my non-existent cousin Mikhailís house? We would have to register ourselves at a police station, and according to the consulateís website, that could take hours.

But no matter. All we have to do is take our documents to the consulate and weíre golden. We did that and were greeted with a line outside that went halfway down the street. The inside was very small and couldnít hold all the people who needed service. As Iíve noted before, it rains a whole lot here and I suppose that could be a problem but at least this day was sunny.

Finally it was my turn. I gave the documents to the clerk who asked for my Dutch residence card. Nobody said we would need it but thatís fine because we always have them, sort of like a driverís license in the U.S. Apparently they only provide visa service for Dutch citizens and resident aliens so heaven help you if youíre not Dutch and just passing through the Netherlands and have a sudden change of plans. The clerk then told me that the application I had was no good. It would work for 5.7 billion people in the world but for the .3 billion who call themselves Americans, itís invalid. She looked around for another form and disappeared for about five minutes as the line grew longer. Upon returning she had only one form and made a copy. Remember that; she made a copy. She gave me the new improved, Americanized forms and we sat down to fill them out. At first it seemed like it would be only a 15 minute delay, but when we got to the part, for a tourist visa remember, that they wanted to know the name of every school we had ever attended with dates, addresses and phone numbers, every country we had been to in the last ten years and the years we had been to them, and our last two places of employment including addresses, phone numbers, and the last names of our supervisors (yes, Janice, the Russians know about you and have your number), we thought maybe we should come back on another day.

Over the weekend, amid a high degree of cursing and wondering why the hell all this is needed for a lousy tourist visa, we completed the forms. We headed back to the consulate ready to go. I handed my papers to the clerk who has become the single most unpleasant person Iíve ever encountered and the previous champ is someone Iíve known for more than 40 years! She examined all our forms, paid no attention to our schools or countries traveled to, said everything was in order but that we would have to provide a copy of our residence cards. We should come back when we had the copies because they wouldnít make copies. They have a copy machine right there but noooo! Not even for a fee. She said she didnít know or care where the copies were made and knew of no place nearby where we could get one made. Had I known this, I would have already made a copy before we got there. So we went around the neighborhood until we found a business that made a copy for us.

We returned with the copies and, as you can imagine, I was now extremely annoyed with this whole process. I got in line again and got the same clerk. She asked me the fatal question, "When would you like your passport returned." In my annoyance with her, I didnít question what she really meant. You can understand that I do not like surrendering my passport to anyone. I had only ever needed a visa to enter a country once before, in Turkey about a year and half ago. Getting a visa to get into Turkey is like buying a ticket to Disneyland; pay the Ä15 at the airport after getting there, come and go as often as you like for a year, and stay up to 90 days at a time. No questions asked. They gave us little stickers to put in the passport. I forgot completely about this and somehow got it in my head that a visa was a separate document. I didnít think about it being physically attached to the passport and that the consulate needed the passport for that reason. So when she asked when I wanted it back, I told her I wanted it back now thinking they would send me the visa in the next several days or weeks or whatever. Being even nastier, the clerk told me to come back in an hour. An hour seemed a reasonable time to surrender the passport. I didnít realize her question was not really about when I wanted the passport back but rather when I needed the visa which wasnít for more than two months.

I spent the hour visiting the Peace Palace about a block away, home of the International Court of Justice where Slobodan Miloöević met his Waterloo, and returned full of love and brotherhood for my fellow man. It didnít last long.

I presented my receipt to the cashier. She charged me an astounding Ä510 and I almost fell through the floor. All I had in my hand were the passports, no visas that were apparent to me, and not a soul would answer a question. Finally someone came out from a back office and took me to this most offensive of clerks. I asked when I would get my visas. I didnít know if they were to be mailed or if I was to return to pick them up. I had no idea what was happening. "Give me your papers!" she barked. I did and she shuffled through them. She turned to a page in the passport, held it up and said, "Whatís this?!?!" Thatís when I realized what was going on. I had paid for emergency one hour visa service when I had no need for that at all. Nobody ever questioned me when I asked for it, making sure that I understood what I was asking for.

Worse, the published rates on my receipt say Ä60 for six to ten day service, Ä90 for two to five day service, and Ä110 for emergency service. Given that, I can see why I might have been charged Ä220 instead of Ä120 for both, but I have no idea where the Ä510 came from. Nobody there seemed very interested in answering any questions and I had no choice but to accept it and just leave. Either that or cause an international incident which seemed like a bad idea.

Iíve written several times to the Russian consulate asking only for an explanation of the amount but have yet to receive a response of any kind. I hope this trip to Russia works out better than itís starting out. Having a fight with the Russian Consulate isnít fun. But then, whatís the worst that could happen? Seriously, whatís the worst thing that could possibly happen? Maybe the Kingston Trio said it best.


© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008