Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)


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Long-stay Bulgarian Visa: Success at Last!

I have been getting quite a few questions lately via my blog email about the {horrendous} Type D, Long-stay Bulgarian visa process.

(feel free to keep your questions/comments/advice/etc. coming, either here in the comments section or through my email: whitney@girlmeetsbugaria.com).

I thought now would be as good a time as any to update you all on my progress and to go over my experiences as a whole.

First off, I should announce that…

I GOT THE VISA!!!

finally!

Now that I am on the other side of this long and expensive ordeal (for that is what it was, a total ordeal), I can take a deep breath, evaluate how it went, and look back with some clarity.

(this is a reaaallly long post, so you may want to come back another day if all this doesn’t interest you)

Last time I wrote about the visa, I detailed my specifics situation as well as what documentation was required in order to apply.

 Back then I had planned on returning to the Bulgarian Consulate in Chicago (where I went in November to ask some questions on a visa trip turned birthday trip because I didn’t have all the necessary paperwork in order). I actually ended up applying at the consulate in Los Angeles at the end of last month after leaving Alaska.

I spent the entire summer gathering all of the documents, getting translations, and planning my brief stop in L.A.

I am not a fan of Los Angeles, so I wanted my stay there to be as brief as possible. And brief it certainly was!

I arrived at LAX on a direct flight from Anchorage at about 10am. I purposely booked a hotel close to the airport (the always classy Super 8) which offered a free shuttle. I arrived at the hotel (motel?) which was practically ON the runway–and immediately walked across the street to the Avis office to rent a car (again, I went the classy route and got a Hyundai Accent).

Because my appointment at the Consulate (yes appointments are required and I called to schedule mine early on in the summer) was the next morning, I had nothing to do for the rest of the day but watch TV and eat delicious Greek food, courtesy of the restaurant literally 10 steps from my hotel room door.

I got an early start the next morning because I was terrified of getting lost on L.A.’s crazy freeways. The consulate, which is located on Wilshire Blvd.-right off the interstate, was easy enough to find and I made it there well before my 9:30a appointment time. I found a meter, talked out some of my nerves over the phone with my lovely husband, and waited in the lobby of the building.

My meter only gave me a max of 2 hours, so I asked the security woman if I could possibly head up to the consulate a little early so I wouldn’t get a ticket. She not so nicely informed me that the building–which also houses the consulates for several other nations–is extremely secure and I would not be allowed entry onto the elevators until my scheduled time.

Humph.

I was a bundle of nerves, so waiting only made things worse.

Eventually 9:30a rolled around (security would not let me go up even 1 min. early!) and I was allowed onto the elevator (AKA, Fort Knox). The Bulgarian Consulate consisted of a simple waiting room with a glass window separating the offices from the customers. I walked up to the window and was immediately helped by two eager and somewhat brusque Bulgarian women. *Side note: they were by no means rude to me, rather they had the blunt personality that many Bulgarians do.

They asked (incredulously, as always) why I wanted to go to Bulgaria. I gave them the “My husband is Bulgarian and, like every normal couple, we want to be together speech.” They asked for my paperwork, which I gladly handed over in a meticulously organized envelope. They proceeded to randomly glance at each paper in no particular order whilst talking to each other in rapid-fire Bulgarian.

Turns out I was missing a few things that I did not know I needed (but which weren’t listed ANYWHERE on their websites OR told to me over the 4+ phone calls I made to THREE different consulates, as well as the embassy–TOTAL SHOCKER THERE…). They said I needed my marriage certificate/apostille/translation notarized as well as my FBI background check/apostille/translation notarized. My heart dropped and I thought I was going to be sick. My flight out of L.A. was later that night and I had no clue where or how to go get a bunch of documents notarized AND then those notarizations translated in Bulgarian. Luckily, they relieved me of another $60 and did it right there.

Thankfully, all my other paperwork seemed to be in order. They gave everything back to me besides Vince’s affidavit of support statement and the notarized copy of his passport.

At this point they started talking to each other again and seemed a little nervous. The younger woman finally told me that I would have to pay $150 to get the visa because I had not yet registered my marriage in Bulgaria. I know I had heard something about doing that but I never got around to it while I was there, so I came prepared to pay the fee. She seemed relieved that I knew I would have to pay and went about writing out all my receipts.

I paid the visa fee of $150 (plus another $25 for an express USPS envelope), handed over my beloved passport, and they said they would “be in touch.” I asked if they knew how long it might take as I had a flight to BG scheduled for early in November, and they just said I would have to wait and see, but that the average wait is 30 business days. My flight falsl on the 31st business day. CRAP.

I walked out extremely worried but just glad it was all over and out of my hands.

I got home to SLC and the waiting game began. I kicked myself for bot getting a tracking number for the envelope (and considered making Vince call the consulate to get it). After about a week I began looking into arrangements to change my flight. A few days after that, Vince called me and said that the local municipal government office in Smolyan had gone to our apartment to make sure it really existed. No one was there, of course, as Vince is living in Sofia and my in-laws live in Elhovets most of the year. A neighbor friend of ours saw the person knocking on the door and told them that no one was home. He gave them Vince’s cell phone number and they called him shortly thereafter. Basically all they wanted to do was confirm that we did indeed have someplace to live and that I hadn’t lied on any of my paperwork.

I really had no clue that anyone in locally would follow up on my visa application made in the states. It didn’t really matter as we did everything completely as we should have, but it was still a little surprising.

Then, about another week later, I got a call from the local FedEx office that an envelope was waiting for me. I knew it had to be my visa but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too soon as it had only been a little over 2 weeks since I had applied.

Well, I’m sure you have gathered by now that it was my passport WITH my shiny new Bulgarian visa taking up an entire page of much sought after real estate.

It was such a huge relief to finally be done with the process and know that I didn’t have to change my flight.

I am still in awe of all it took to get 6 MONTHS in Bulgaria. Wow. Craziness.

My biggest pieces of advice for those of you going through the visa process are:

•Start preparing all the paperwork WELL in advance. I’m talking at least 6 months. The FBI background check alone can take up to 12 weeks (mine took 9), not to mention all the time it takes to send away for apostillations and translations.

•Do your research on what the specific consulate you will be visiting requires. I got a slightly different answer from all the Bulgarian entities in America, so don’t talk to one and then think that everything they say will apply somewhere else. That being said, I found the consulate in L.A. to be the most helpful, which is contrary to what a lot of other people have reported.

•If you are married to a Bulgarian and can swing it, register your marriage in Bulgaria to save yourself $150 and a lot of hassle.

•Arrive to your appointment with plenty of cash. The L.A. consulate did not take credit or debit cards and I had to run downstairs to find an ATM to get extra cash because I was not expecting the additional $60 notarization fees.

•Just take everything one step at a time and try not to get too frustrated. Unfortunately, it seems like this is just the way things work in Bulgaria (and their respective counterparts in the U.S.), so going with the flow will help to prevent a lot of anxiety and major freak-outs. I learned this the hard way.

If you’ve read this post as well as my previous post and still have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I know I appreciated all the help and advice I could get from others when I was ass-deep in the tangled Bulgarian visa process, so I am more than happy to pass what I know and experienced along.

Best of luck!

W.

P.S. If you made it through this entire post (and all my misused commas) I commend you!

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Long-stay Bulgarian Visa

This post serves two purposes: share my visa experiences thus far as well as offer some advice and information on how to go about obtaining a type-D long-stay Bulgarian visa (based on marriage to a Bulgarian citizen), for those who may need it.

The process of applying for a Bulgarian type-D visa is a long, complicated and expensive one, to say the least.

But if I want to stay in Bulgaria for longer than 3 months (the length of a tourist visa), I have to endure it.

You’d think that after a couple of years worth of research, phone calls and emails to two Bulgarian Consulates and advice from fellow Americans (Lauren, you are a life saver!), I would have been better prepared. Alas, it’s looking more and more like I’m not.

The current policies in place require that American citizens apply for the D-visa in the United States at one of three Bulgarian Consulates–Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. You may also be able to apply at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington D.C or the “Honorary Consul” in Carson City, Nevada (although on that last one I’d call them first to verify if they offer visa services as I wasn’t able to find a website for them nor could I find much information about the facility online). In the past, Americans were able to apply in Europe (usually in a country neighboring Bulgaria), now, however, we are required to apply in the U.S. I have decided to make the trip to Chicago for my visa as opposed to going to Los Angeles (the consulate closest to me) for two reasons… First, after contacting both consulates, Chicago came out the clear winner as far as helpfulness. Second, I would rather spend a few days in the Windy City than I would in L.A.

Contrary to what the websites for all the locations state, it seems that quite a bit of documentation and legalization is needed to get the visa.

So far, I have learned that the following items are required:

Apostillated and translated copy of the marriage certificate – Before applying for the visa the marriage certificate must also be presented in Bulgaria to register the marriage there. Apostillation services are done by the county in the state in which you are married. Each consulate has a list of approved translators.

Affidavit of Support provided by the Bulgarian citizen – From what I understand, this just needs to be a written statement provided by the Bulgarian citizen stating that they have the means and intent to financially support the applicant. Notarized and translated, of course.

Notarized copy of Bulgarian citizen’s passport – If both parties go to the consulate together, the passport can just be presented. If not, the notarization must be done in Bulgaria as that is the issuing country.

Criminal Background Check on applicant (also called a previous convictions certificate)- This is a new requirement and a huge pain in the butt! The Chicago consulate requires a FBI background check which  includes being fingerprinted and takes at least 8 weeks to get, oh and it also has to be apostillated and translated! Some consulates may also accept a state background check.

Applicant’s passport – Finally, an easy one!

Proof of insurance coverage– The provider must be licensed to operate in the EU, the policy must last at least 6 months and have a minimum of 30,ooo EUR covering all repatriation of remains, emergency medical care and hospital treatment. Yikes. This one scares me!

Bank statements from both parties proving “sufficient funds” – This requirement is fairly ambiguous. Although, one Bulgarian government website says it has to equal the Bulgarian minimum monthly wage.  I cannot get anyone to tell me a required amount so it looks like the applicant is at the mercy of the agent helping them. However, I think that a few thousand dollars is sufficient, especially by Bulgarian standards. I guess if they want more and I don’t have it in my account I can always do a cash advance on one of my credit cards then transfer the money back after I get the visa.

2 copies of the Type-D Visa application

2 current passport size photos

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