My Experience at Immigration

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Hungarian immigration office. Imagine the DMV, but literally 100 times worse. Because my stay in Hungary is 15 days above the 90-day allowed length of stay for those traveling as tourists, I had to apply for a residence permit.

My friend and I followed the instructions of our program coordinator to get there before the office even opened. Armed with all our necessary documents and our passports, we set off for the office. One metro ride and one bus ride later, we arrived at 8:15. The office opens at 8:30, so we thought we were doing great on time and would be in and out in an hour. Boy, were we wrong.

There were probably 40 people ahead of us in line already. We met a nice lady from Canada who was in the same boat as me. Once the clock hit 8:30 the line started to move pretty quickly, which made us optimistic. Nah, turns out we were just in line to get a number. They assign numbers based on what your purpose is at the office. Those just picking up their permits, European Union citizens, and those already with Visas get first priority. Last priority: people like me – getting a residence permit, non-EU citizen, with no Visa.

I was given number 220. About 15 minutes after sitting in the waiting room, the TV screen indicated that number 200 was up. We soon figured out that those with numbers in the 200’s were all going through the same process as me. My friend Margaret had already gotten her Visa while she was in the US, so her number was 719 because she fell into a different category. As the 700’s steadily ticked by, progress in the 200’s was slim to none. Every 10 to 15 minutes the next 700 number would get called up. The 200’s increased about once an hour. At that rate, I’d be at the office for 20 hours.

Now, I came completely unprepared. I brought a small snack of Belvita breakfast biscuits and nothing to do. The office has no Wi-Fi and I don’t have a data plan while I’m here, so I settled on napping, twiddling my thumbs, and playing the one game I have on my iPhone. The process wouldn’t have been as terrible if I’d brought a book or some homework, but I didn’t, so I was stuck with a restless mind.

By the time Margaret was called up around noon, my category was only at 204. The agonizingly slow pace never sped up, so I told Margaret she could leave without me. The Canadian lady we’d met in line and I decided to team up and get some answers. We went to the information desk and asked why it was going so slow and if they had any idea when our numbers would get called. We were told in broken English that some organized groups had been ahead of us, which was why it was so slow, and it could be several more hours before we were called up. It was the first week of class, so I really didn’t want to miss my classes that afternoon and waiting for four hours with nothing to do was making me stir-crazy. I decided to leave and come back the next day.

Maybe it was the stress or sleep-deprived delirium, but I couldn’t find the bus stop going back. I wandered around like a lost puppy for about 10-minutes before I asked a lady at a different bus stop if she knew where it was. She told me to go left, but she pointed right, so I figured she meant right and that her English wasn’t very good. I went right and wandered for another 20 minutes trying to decide if I should get a taxi or risk my life running across a busy street to get to a random metro station I found. I ended up wandering back towards the bus stop I got off of that morning and asked someone if they knew where the same stop was going the other direction. Of course it was across the street just up a little ways. It was kind of hidden by trees, but I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out where it was.

So, I rushed home, changed clothes, grabbed my backpack, and speed-walked to class. That morning I’d thought, I’ll get this done early in the morning and then I’ll have time to go for a run before my class at 1:40!  Nope. It’s been really hot this week, so I showed up to my Hungarian language class sweaty, hungry, five minutes late, and looking like a hot-mess.

The next day I woke up even earlier and went with some other friends to the immigration office. I told them to bring food and stuff to keep them occupied. We arrived at 7:40 and waited for the office to open. I brought my number from the day before and luckily they said they’d take me right away when I showed it to them. I spent about half an hour with a little Hungarian lady who looked over my documents, made me fill out another form stating that I would voluntarily leave the country if my application was rejected, and took my photo and fingerprints. She tried telling me that I didn’t bring my bank statement, even though I had; it said “College Checking Account”, which she interpreted as something proving that I went to school here. I had to point and show her where it said how much money I have in my account for her to realize her mistake. I was NOT about to come back a third time because she couldn’t read.

Alas, it all worked out in the end. I even saw the Canadian lady again and helped her out by signing a document that proved she is a “real person”. I don’t understand either. Even though I had gotten to go first, it still took about three hours out of my day between transportation and waiting for the office to open.

Moral of the story, the immigration office sucks. And get your Visa before you apply for a residence permit in a foreign country. Between this experience and getting a stomach bug or eating something bad yesterday, who knows (which explains why I’ve had time to sit in bed all day and write this instead of going caving), it’s been an interesting past few days. But next weekend I’m off to the Amalfi coast of Italy, so that should brighten things up! I’ll be sure to share some cool pictures from that trip with you all. Until next time!

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