Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

Of police clearances, passports and those confounded visas

One thing about living this peripatetic life is that I often need to apply for a police clearance certificate in whatever country I happen to be in, and a visa to get to the country I’m going to.

I’m back in South Africa and have been going through both those processes for close on two months.

In mid-December I went to a police station nearby and found the office that deals with police clearances. I was most fortunate to be in on the whole police station’s social plans for Christmas: between each finger print I’d hear about their parties planned, gifts bought, and people to be visited. Of course, I was also informed more than once that my being there was seriously eating into their lunch plans.

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A page from my old, almost-full passport.

Neither of the people assisting me would actually submit the form to the relevant department for me, so my next stop was to the forensic services division in the centre of town. That went smoothly after I found parking some blocks away, and I was told I could expect the clearance in a month. January arrived with no sign of my police clearance, and so I decided to apply for a new passport while I was waiting. That took me to the Home Affairs Office in Cullinan, a town about 50km from home. I was both shocked and relieved at how efficient they were. Not to sound too cynical, but I could barely believe I was still in Africa. “Come back in four weeks,” I was told. Apparently all official documents take a month to process.

In the meantime I had a pack of paperwork to apply for a visa to the country I’m going to, and popped around to their embassy just to check if the letters and other documents would, in fact, suffice. I told the embassy official I was waiting for my police clearance certificate but that I hoped I had everything else.

“I won’t look at anything until you bring me everything,” she replied.

“But how will I know if I’ve got everything if you won’t look at what I have,” I asked nicely. (They have been known to change the requirements on a whim.)

“I will look when you have the clearance certificate,” was the only answer I got. “Come back then, and make sure you have your plane ticket too.”

And so the wait for both my new passport and police certificate continued. Every day I’d check online, with the same results: in process. Week four came and went, then week five, and finally week six … I called the police hotline, which rang off the hook (yes, you read that correctly) so I hung up and tried Home Affairs. “Oh yes, your passport was ready after only two weeks,” the friendly civil servant on the other end of the line told me. “You can come and pick it up any time.”

A beautiful, clean, new passport page.

A beautiful, clean, new passport page.

And so I did. There was one couple in the line ahead of me. One. In a Home Affairs Office. On a Friday afternoon. I thought the rapture had come and we’d been left behind. Or the zombie apocalypse. But I wasn’t complaining.

Full of hope, I drove straight from there to the Police Forensic Offices back in Pretoria. And I was met with a queue out the door, around the corner and down the corridor. But I waited, making small talk with others waiting to pick up their certificates too. With crime rates so high and levels of trust so low, it seems as if one needs a police clearance certificate for just about everything nowadays: I half expected my waiter to ask me for one when I ordered a cappuccino over the weekend.

An hour and a half later I stood before the (understandably) very grumpy woman at the counter. (It was a Friday afternoon, after all.) I held my breath, closed my eyes and held out my receipt. With my free hand, I scratched myself nervously. Squinting through one eye, braced for anything, I watched as she waddled over to the wall of envelopes, thumbed through a few, chatted to one of her colleagues, thumbed through some more, chastised someone for stepping out of line … before pulling out a large brown manila envelope with my name on it! I’m convinced it was glowing. Or maybe that was just me. I let out a sigh and did a little dance – it had been signed and stamped the previous day!

Which leaves me where I am now – with a brand new, crisp passport and a visit to the embassy planned. I hope to fly out on my next adventure next week if all goes well, because embassies and I, we have a history too.

The queue ...

The queue …

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3 comments on “Of police clearances, passports and those confounded visas

  1. Bianca
    February 4, 2015

    You’re coming next week?!!!! YIPEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. LaBelleza
    February 10, 2015

    Enjoy the adventure!

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by in Travel and tagged .
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