Friday, October 27, 2017

How to Successfully Exchange Your Driver's License in Slovakia

"To apply for exchange of a state DL, contact your local police department (PDF 112 KB). The police will take all your documents, take a face and signature scan, collect a fee, and print the application on behalf of the applicant. One copy of the application along with the original state DL will be returned to you. The application tells you the date when the Slovak DL will be ready for pick up. Your U.S. state DL must be surrendered when you pick up your Slovak license. Your U.S. DL will be returned to the U.S. Embassy for return to the issuing authority, i.e. your U.S. home state."
I read this information and thought, "that seems simple enough".

Warning: when this thought crosses your mind and you live in a foreign country, don't believe it.

Tips when attempting to organize, exchange, apply for, etc. documents in a foreign country:
  • expect to wait a lot
  • expect to return multiple times
  • expect that each person you talk to will tell you something slightly different
  • expect that what seems like it should be simple will not in fact be simple
As you can see, expectations are important.

Even if you are not planning on organizing your documents in a foreign country, these principles might be useful to employ in almost every situation that involves communication with another human being or even a computer.

Rough timeline detailing process and encounters required to exchange a DL in Slovakia:

January

  •  Request driving record from MDV in your state
  • Ask your mom to take the record you requested to the state capitol and have it apostilled (this process takes your mom an entire day of going back and forth between the MDV and the apostille office.)
  • Your mom sends the official documents across the ocean
  • You take the driving record and have it "officially" copied and signed at a notary in Slovakia
  • You take the official copy of your official driving record to the official translation office and they translate it into Slovak
  • You take the official, translated, apostilled copy of your driving record to the police to exchange your DL and the lady tells you that you also need a translated copy of your DL

February

  • You have your DL "officially" copied and signed at the notary
  • You take the official copy of your DL to the official translation office and have it translated into Slovak
  • You return to the police and proudly give them all your documents and the new lady that helps you tells you that you actually can't apply to exchange your DL until 6 months after you received your visa, so you'll have to come back in May.

May

  • You go to the police and wait to get your ticket and the lady helping at the kiosk asks you where you live and then tells you that you actually have to go to a different police station based on where you live.
  • You go to the different police station and when you hand your residency card to that person, they tell you that you need to go back to the original police station.
  • You go back to the original police station, give your documents to a girl who painstakingly goes over everything and can't get past the fact that your US DL states that you have a "class D" license because in Slovakia a personal auto DL is "group B".  
You try to make a funny joke in Slovak saying that in English B is D, but she either doesn't get it or is unimpressed with your humor.  Oh the things that are lost in translation.  

  • She informs you that due to this discrepancy, she has to send your documents to "the presidium" [this immediately conjures up images of spy movies and secret organizations, but you wisely don't try to joke about that.] She takes your phone number and says they will call.

June

  • You haven't heard from the police for over a month, so you decide to go and see what you can find out.  After waiting for an hour, you explain the situation to the man helping you this time.  He has no idea where your documents are and you don't know the name of the girl who took them.  You give the vague description of "20s, young, long hair" and he comes back with a girl who is certainly not the one who helped you.  
  • He then calls "the presidium" and after a few minutes hands your DL back to you and says you have to go to driving school. When you ask why, he replies "according to the law".  When you challenge this (because you were not informed of this at any of your previous visits), he replies that Slovakia doesn't have an agreement with Mexico.  You sigh inwardly and explain that NM is one of the 50 states of America.  He tells the person on the phone this and then tells you that you will just have to wait and they will call you.

July

  • You receive a phone call from the police informing you that "the presidium" refused your application, stating that Slovakia doesn't have an agreement with "the country of New Mexico"

August

  • You head back to the police (with your Slovak-speaking husband) and again explain your situation.  The woman helping you doesn't recognize the name of the woman who called you on the phone.  
  • Eventually they find your documents and inform you that there is no agreement with Mexico.  
  • You pull out your US passport and explain that you are not from Mexico.  
  • The woman makes a call, confirming that because New Mexico is in fact a state in the US, it is possible to exchange your DL.  
  • They send you to a different person, who painstakingly goes through all your documents (again) and states that it is not clear what "class D" is.  
The thought crashes through your brain that you are going to have to call the MVD and get some kind of official document that states the class D is for driving a personal auto, have your mom take it to the state capitol to be apostilled and then come back to the police only to find out that something else isn't quite right.  

  • Thankfully your husband just motions to you to remain calm and let the woman go through her process.  Eventually she nods and states that you can buy the ticket to pay for a DL! 
I again try to joke (when will I learn), asking that she make sure to give my DL to the US embassy and not the Mexican one, but she definitely doesn't find it amusing.

Things I would like to suggest to the US and Slovakia regarding how they might improve their official documents and processes:
  • indicate somewhere on the state DL that the state is part of the US
  • include a brief description of what the classes of DLs are on the official driving record
  • give clients a ticket at the Slovak police, indicating the person that they spoke with and the documents that were handed over.
Things that might be helpful when you are trying to exchange documents in a foreign country:
  • a pocket map of the US
  • a paper where you write dates of police visits and names of clerks
  • keeping a copy of whatever documents you give to the police
Thankfully, I was able to mostly stay in a good mood regarding this saga.  At the very least, I always imagine that it will make a good story.  And good stories can make even frustrating situations a little better.

And I'm now a licensed driver in Slovakia!


My new driver's license, important information blacked out for your protection.



8 comments:

  1. Expat Living am I right? This was way more drama than it took to get mine in Austria! I am proud of you for sticking it out!!!

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    1. Haha, so true! It was definitely an experience! :D

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  2. love it :) New Mexico is a state...just like Minnesota is in the US not Canada :)

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    1. Let's just keep educating the world! ;)

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  3. This reminds me of so many if Daniel's Ghana stories. Way to go New Mexico, confusing people all over the world. Congratulations on being a licensed driver 😀

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    1. International living has similarities - no matter where you are!

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  4. Oh my gosh Will and I just laughed so hard at the State of New Mexico bit and so on. Amazing you didn't hit your head on a wall somewhere in frustration. I have to do this soon and hope it won't be quite as rough...

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    1. I'm glad you guys got a good laugh out of this story - New Mexico is probably the only state that you'd have a problem with because it contains the name of an actual country in it...holding my thumbs that you have a smooth experience!

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