Sunday, August 9, 2015

An Israeli Visa in 10 "Easy" Steps

Even though I'll be heading back to good old America during the semester break in just about 3 weeks :) ... my time in Israel is not yet over! I'll be coming back to do the fall semester from October-January. Since I was originally supposed to graduate this month, my student visa is going to expire soon. Today I survived making a trek over to the local Ministry of the Interior to get it renewed- so fun.

Navigating foreign government bureaucracy is kind of stressful. However, I guess I've never even had to navigate American government stuff on my own... so it makes sense that doing real live adult things like this in a foreign country seems intimidating.

In case anyone reading this is considering moving to Israel and then unexpectedly has to renew their visa (ha), I've narrowed the process down into ten easy steps.

I. Obtain the necessary paperwork.
This step seemed pretty easy at first. After a quick trip to the international school office at the university, I got the papers confirming that I needed a visa extension and directions to the Ministry of the Interior building. Of course, as I was walking out the door on the day of my appointment... I noticed that the office had put the wrong passport number on the papers. I decided to make an attempt to use the papers anyway.

II. Skip your German class in order to go to appointment.
The easiest step of all! This was one of the only steps that caused me absolutely no inconvenience or stress ;)

III. Get on correct bus, ride for 40 minutes (might as well read some Harry Potter on the way, it's a long ride), get off at correct stop.
I am so challenged when it comes to deciphering the Haifa bus system, but today was a semi-success! One of those numerous times since moving here that I was super thankful that I can read the names of the bus stops in Hebrew as they go by. Yay for random talents.

Shout out to the very patriotic bus driver. Cracked me up. 3 flags and counting!

IV. Figure out where to go after getting off the bus.
I used a tried and true method for this one: follow other people. I tagged along behind a line of other people getting off the bus and crossed my fingers that they were going to the same place I was. Even though I could see the Ministry building from the bus stop, sometimes in Israel it's complicated because there are big security fences around everything. It can be hard to find the entrance. You can't just walk up to buildings like you can in the U.S. Who would have thought that walking into a building is something to be taken for granted.

The building- I don't know what it's officially called, but I refer to it as the rocket ship.

V. Go through security... three times.
My instincts were right! The people I followed were smarter than me, and I was able to find the building and make it inside after THREE different checkpoints of metal detectors and people looking through my bag.

VI. Stand in a line that in hindsight... you didn't have to stand in.
At the entrance to the visa office, I was directed to the information desk. After waiting for around 20 minutes and finally getting to the front of the line, the frustrated person at the desk was confused as to why I was there since I already had an appointment scheduled. She sent me to "Desk #2" to get my visa.

VII. Get comfortable at Desk #2.
No one was at the desk when I got there, but I was happy to sit and wait in the comfortable chair after standing in line for a while. 10 or 15 minutes later, the owner of Desk #2 returned. I eagerly pulled out my passport and paperwork and started to explain that I needed a student visa renewal. Before I could get that out, she barked "Ma?," or in English, "What are you doing here?". I said I had an appointment, and that the information desk had sent me there. Her response was (in English this time), "Baby, the world doesn't revolve around you. Leave. I have another appointment."

VIII. Get uncomfortable on the metal chairs of shame.
Behind the comfortable chairs and the desk cubicles populated by people receiving and giving out visas, a row of dusty metal chairs sat abandoned along the perimeter of the room. Someone else told me to sit there until the scary lady was ready for me. Being derogatorily called "baby" and accused of being self-centered after being polite, waiting for a long time, and following directions was annoying, to say the least, but I settled in to wait until the apparently extremely important other appointment was over. The only other person also waiting in the reject area was a lady with the textbook definition of cankles.

Being bored= me taking pictures of weird things. I'm so sorry.

IX. Persevere.
The important other appointment only lasted about 10 minutes. I kept trying to make eye-contact with the scary lady and wait to be called over. She played on her phone for a few minutes and then made sure that there was no one else in the waiting room before reluctantly deciding to help me with a, "Boi! Acshav." ("Come here. Now."). She didn't notice that my passport number was wrong on the paperwork (yay!), but she almost didn't give me a visa because of some other detail that was wrong. Key word: almost... because I did eventually leave victoriously with a new visa glued inside my passport!

X. Jump in a taxi because you don't understand the bus system.
Usually the bus stop to go the opposite direction is located directly across the street from the other bus stop. Of course, I couldn't find the bus stop I needed to head back to the university, even after wandering down a few streets. Luckily, a taxi drove by that saved me from more wandering in the heat. I am so not made to live somewhere that hits the 90s all summer.

So... long story short, I can now enter Israel legally when I come back in mid-October. It may have been a bit of a hassle, but I can't complain too much since it worked out in the end. I think government workers are cranky no matter what country you're in, and it doesn't help when you don't speak their language fluently. Israelis aren't known for being polite, but they do (generally) get things done. Still a much better experience than when the doctor at the French immigration office made a joke about how I was too fat to live in France. Quelle horreur. 

Living in other countries definitely isn't always fun and carefree... but I accept occasional encounters with mean government people as being a worthwhile trade-off to having international adventures!

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