If you ever have to go to the Foreign Office in London to get documents ‘legalised’ for an Argentine Visa application, you will learn exactly what to expect in ‘migraciones’ in Argentina. It is as if Britain wants you to understand what might be involved once you arrive in Buenos Aires. Actually to be honest my experiences in ‘migraciones’ have been a king to this particular English version. On Thursday I learned that if you need any kind of document legalising (necessary for any kind of official dealings with a foreign country: marriage, pets, medical, visa…) you will enjoy the following treatment:
The Foreign Office website is informative and leads you imagine a highly organised ‘Public Counter’ operation. After all you are going to pay 27 pounds per document: in my case 81 pounds for 3 documents. Maybe that doesn’t sound too much money, but it is around $500 pesos, which goes quite a long way in my Argentine life (and it is just one of the costs: certified copies of certificates 26 pounds each; legally valid translations 150 pounds; certification of letter by a Notary Public 20 pounds; Visa application 150 pounds; 3 or 4 trips to London… train fares, petrol, tube fares…).
The map on the website is not brilliant. It makes big mention of Horse Gardens, which I never found. Spring Gardens which seemed to surround the building was not mentioned on the map. But at the moment you can spot the Foreign Office which is at the bottom of The Mall because it is totally clothed in white fabric (renovations?). There is a sign in the street that says, ‘Queue here’ with a security guard to point the door out… so maybe sometimes the queues extend to the street. As there was no queue in the street I felt optimistic. It was 11.ooam.
On entry make sure you speak to the person in a glass cubicle on the right. (Many people were missing this out completely, and as there is no obvious sign visible, it is hardly surprising). They will check your documents and give you a number (if you have spent any time in Buenos Aires, this will feel wonderfully familiar as even the tickets look the same), and tell you very politely that there is a wait. In my case the person estimated one and a half hours. A security guard ran after me and told me to turn off my mobile phone which I was not using. Many people were openly using theirs. Despite ’security issues’ nobody asked to look in my bag. I was clutching a ticket showing number C68. I spotted the electronic number board in the room opposite: B95. I sent my parents off to the National Gallery with instructions to return at 1.00pm.
There were not enough seats. Maybe over 100 people were crammed into two small adjoining rooms. From my room it was not possible to see the public counters, or to hear some of the announcements clearly. Thankfully I managed to secure a seat in the first tiny room. Many people were standing, sitting on the floor, entering with enthusiastic smiles, looking at the number board and visibly wilting with disappointment. Luckily I could see the number on the board from my seat, and so know when it was my turn. But I was delightfully, right outside the one toilet which was built as a partition in the room and had no lock on the door. Privacy for users? Virtually non existent.
By 1.00pm we were on number C41. Basically you are called by number and you go and pay. Then you wait again for the documents to be ready and for your number to be called again. Finally you get a piece of paper stuck to the back of your documents certifying that they are originals. We left at 2.30pm, with the treasured legalisations but also with a few questions on our minds… My mother is very keen to write to the Foreign Office and ask why, when ever something ‘foreign’ is involved people seem to be treated like second class citizens. I agree with her. This process did not make me feel proud of my country.
And I am lucky that I only live in Southampton. What if you live 600 miles away and have lengthy travel to cope with too? Yes of course you can send the documents and wait 10 days, but I suspect for many people time is a huge factor, and hence the popularity of the ‘Public Counter’. But for me now thankfully, it is done. I have my documents, and now they are being translated. Ready in a week. Why am I even bothering with all this when I can get into Argentina on a tourist visa? Well long term, I want residency if possible. I own a property in Buenos Aires. I need stability. This way, in time, I just might have a chance of achieving it.
Tonight I will head to London again, but this time to The Crypt (if I can manage to negotiate London at night in the car)… Will anyone invite me to dance? It will be interesting to experience being a stranger in a London tango venue. How will it compare to the ‘newbie in Buenos Aires’ experience? Well I think I will know a couple of guys and maybe they will dance with me so that people can see that I won’t embarrass them if they get me onto the dance floor. We will see. And you will hear how it goes… If you are at the Crypt tonight, give me a smile.
Meanwhile I have only 6 days to go until I meet Carlos at Gatwick. I cannot wait. He has finished his work and is planning a week of ‘preparations’: buying ‘yerba’ and ‘dulce de leche’ for my parents, getting his hair cut, digging out his winter coats. Last week he sang the Argentine national anthem to my mum and dad over skype. I felt so proud of him. I long to welcome him to my English world, and have him hug the people I love. And I am desperate to be in his arms again both on and off the dance floor.
Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Yes ‘mi amor argentino, mi porteño, mi bailarin’, oh yes, it does!
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