A week ago I made the best decision of my life and married a guy whose zest for life, enduring optimism, and open-mindedness completely won me over during the course of our courtship . Said guy also happen to be Russian, which as anyone involved in an international relationship know, complicates things from a legal perspective. Since I’ve lived and worked in Eastern Europe now for the better part of 2 ½ years, I’ve had my fair share of visas. You name it: student, work, business, tourist, I’ve had them all at various points. So many, in fact, that I recently had to make a trip to the US Embassy to have more pages sewn into my passport. Given that both career-wise and on a personal level, it makes more sense for us to stay in Russia for now, I decided to take the plunge and apply for temporary residency (разрешение на временное проживание.)
So what exactly is temp. res.? Basically a stamp in your passport that allows you to remain in Russia for up to three years without having to exit the country. There are certain restrictions: you need to live in the area where you were granted residency, apply for a work permit to be legally employed, and get an exit visa to leave. After a year, however, you can apply for permanent residency (вид на жительство), which allows you to travel without getting a visa and work without getting a permit.
How does one obtain such a thing? It’s not a walk in the park, to put it mildly. Like most bureaucratic processes in Russia, it is extremely time-consuming, not clearly-defined, and generally unpleasant.
On a psychological level, I think it helps to approach the process with a few things in mind. Firstly, the people who work in the various clinics you will visit, FMS (Federal Migration Services) branches, etc. typically are asked to service an unmanageable number of people and paid very little to do it. Thus, it really does pay to be nice while still being direct and insistent enough in getting the information you need (Which room do I go to? Who signs here? etc.) At the oddly-sounding Tuberculosis Clinic (туберкулезный диспансер) for example, a few of us had to ask the receptionist to track down a wayward doctor who had apparently “gone for a walk” (пошла погулять) during her office hours. On another occasion a group of patients were sent on a wild goose chase as we sought out the elusive second signature of the head “physiatrist” (физиатр). Apparently only one person in the clinic was aware that said person was on vacation, or that the doctor who could sign in his place was located somewhere on the 2nd 3rd floor (there were two “third” floors for some reason.) Moral of the story? Ask, ask again, ask someone else, and play nice.
It also helps to think of the process as something that you can chip away at piece by piece until it’s done. Whereas in the US we’re accustomed to knocking down a bureaucratic hurdle in one (maximum two) blows, in Russia it doesn’t work that way. Instead, try to find joy in the fact that with each little piece of paper you are one step closer. Always bring something to do, because you could literally wait in line for hours. I read almost an entire issue of the Economist at one clinic, and translated the better part of a lengthy political diatribe at another.
Also, wherever you need to be, get there early. Even if a given clinic or bureaucratic office holds fairly regular work hours, it is common in Russia for tasks to be regimented strictly WITHIN those hours. There may be only one doctor that deals with foreigners, or the clinic does fluorographies twice a week, or your FMS branch only accepts new applications on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. Unfortunately the websites (if they exist) don’t post accurate (or sometimes any) information. And just try getting through to FMS on the phone. You really just have to go there, go there early, and go there often.
Hopefully at the end of the tunnel you’ll come out with the documentation you need to live and work in the same country as your loved one(s) or achieve whatever other goal compelled you to throw yourself into this crazy maze of red tape in the first place.