One of the most frustrating things about visiting Ukraine is getting a visa. The annoyance is compounded by the fact that almost nobody needs a visa for Ukraine – except for Australia and New Zealand. Brits don’t need visas; nor do Canadians or Americans. Generally when it comes to visa requirements, Australia and New Zealand are in the same boat as at least Canada and the US. Not in Ukraine. While pretty much everyone else can just waltz across the border and spend 90 days roaming around, I had to go to the hassle of getting a visa in Hungary. And it seems like they really don’t want Australians to go.
Firstly, you need to get an official letter of invitation, covered in official stamps and authorised by their tourism peoples. This wasn’t too hard – the hostel I’d booked for Lviv agreed to send me the required letter once I’d given them all my passport information and told them the dates that I wanted a visa for. I got the letter a few days later.
Secondly, the Ukrainian consulate in Budapest is only open a few days a week, for a few hours. They’re closed on Thursdays, because apparently a weekend isn’t enough for embassy and consulate staff. So on Friday morning off I went to the consulate, on the other side of Budapest, armed with my passport, visa application forms and a huge wad of cash.
I took a tram and then a bus to the consulate and luckily the bus stops right over the road from it so it was not too hard to find. I arrived at about 10.00am, plenty of time. I handed everything over to the unsmiling and rather cranky looking official behind the window, who after looking briefly at the application form told me that I’d filled out the wrong forms and to come back when I had the correct forms completed.
I explained to him that I had downloaded the application forms from their website that very morning, so if they were the wrong forms that wasn’t my error, and could he give me the right forms to fill out. He disputed that their website had the incorrect forms – this would be ‘impossible’. He also didn’t want to give me the right forms, but expected me to somehow locate them myself. After I insisted, for about ten minutes, that the website had the wrong forms he gave in and checked it; having confirmed my story he then handed me the correct forms to complete. Really, would it have been so hard for him to have passed those sheets of paper over earlier?
I was a little concerned as the new forms required me to include the name and contact phone number of my employer. This was a little difficult for me as I’m unemployed. I told him I was a student [not true, but usually the easiest way around that question], but he said I still needed to put a name and number there. I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t check that detail, so I wrote down ‘Red Energy’ but the wrong phone number just in case they did try. Once I’d duly completed the new forms and stuck my photos to them, I handed them back to him along with my passport and invitation letter. He vanished with them for about five minutes and then returned telling me that the letter of invitation was a fake and wasn’t acceptable. I explained that this was the letter of invitation I had been provided by the hostel and they advised this was the official letter authorised by whoever it was had to authorise it. I showed him the email that included it. I’d printed it out in colour so that all the stamps on the damn thing could be seen. He couldn’t tell me what was wrong with it, or show me what the letter ‘should’ look like, and after going back and forth about for half an hour he decided that the letter was acceptable after all. He said that because I was Australian it didn’t matter too much if he wasn’t sure about the letter but that I was lucky that I wasn’t from China.
So far it seemed like they just don’t want tourists to bother. But it got even more annoying.
It was after eleven by the time he decided it was all OK, and then told me how much the visa would cost – $215. At that point I started to seriously reconsider whether I really wanted to go to Ukraine, but I figured that I’d bothered to come all the way to the embassy so I might as well. To be fair, had I had two weeks to wait for a visa the price would have been about $130. And after all, I’d asked for five weeks in the country so it wasn’t so bad.
Then it was time to pay, and the cranky consulate dude then tells me that I can’t actually pay there – I have to go to this specific branch of this specific bank and deposit the payment into a specific bank account and then return with the receipt. OH and we close at 12pm. The bank wasn’t all that close, 20 minutes on a bus, then waiting in line at the bank, then waiting for a bus back to give the consulate, that would be closed anyway, the receipt. After realising there was no way I’d be able to get back by 12, he said that he would let one of the girls working in the embassy section know that I’d be coming back with a visa payment receipt and they would let me in.
So, off I went. I only had to wait ten minutes for the bus there, and only about en minutes in line at the bank and luckily the girl at the bank spoke English. I paid my exorbitant visa fee and headed back to the consulate where, despite Unsmiling Official man’s claim he’d make the other staff aware I’d be coming back, I sat at the gate ringing the bell and generally being annoyed for twenty minutes before they let me in and took the receipt. At least that part was all done.
When I went back the next week to pick up my visa, it took them an HOUR to find my details and the visa sticker. At first they told me that I had never returned with the receipt, then that they hadn’t received my application form. After an hour of insisting that they had both of those things, miraculously they found all my information. They took my passport, and somehow it took another forty minutes for them to figure out how to peel the back off the visa sticker and stick it into my passport. Apparently it’s more complicated than it seems.
So I got my passport back with visa inside and I was pretty happy. Then when I looked at it a little closer, I saw that they’d issued me a visa for 24 days, not the five weeks I’d asked for.
And that’s basically Ukraine in a nutshell.