22 August 2011

How to get a South Korean Apostille from the U.S. in 23 easy steps

The most painful part of a visa process is that so much of it is out of the control of the person who needs the visa. Work is done at government offices, both abroad and in your home country. Trust is placed in delivery companies, including those that leave a package at its shipping center in Boston, two hours from your home, for three full days after promising each day that it was on its way, not that I would ever mention DHL by name.

This is my second go-round with a visa, and there are three facets that make this one with the Czech Republic more stressful than my previous experience with South Korea: It's a longer process, I live a four-hour drive from the nearest Czech consular office (as opposed to when I lived in L.A., which had a Korean consular), and I'm required to produce a criminal record check from my previous home, South Korea.

I had little trouble receiving the criminal record check from Seoul. The tricky part has been getting the Apostille -- a stamp or form that tells other countries that the document is genuine and not, for example, the product of an expert forger from Bangkok.

This is process, which is not over, has been so fun that I thought I'd take you along for the ride, which, incidentally, took me on an emergency trip to Washington, D.C., that I may or may not have needed to take in the first place:

1. After I received the criminal record check, the Korean consular in Boston told me it would be "almost impossible" to get an Apostille, which must be given in South Korea, from the U.S., but the consul would gladly notarize the criminal record check. A woman there gave me a number to call in Seoul, but because she strongly implied that nobody would speak English, I opted to email the Czech consular instead.

2. The Czech consular said the record check must have an Apostille, no exceptions. They suggested calling the Korean Ministry of the Interior.

3. Using Skype, I called the Ministry of Interior's office in Seoul. They passed me along to the same number given to me by the consular in Boston.

4. Thankfully, the woman at the Apostille office in Korea spoke English. When I told her my story, she said: "OK. You come in at 2:30." After I politely reiterated that I was in the U.S., she told me I must:
  • Drive to the Korean embassy in Washington, D.C.
  • Get them to fill out an Apostille application form.
  • Have them send the form and record check to Korea.
  • Wait two weeks for everything.
5. Wednesday, the third of three rental car companies I called in Keene, N.H., had a car for me. Fittingly, it was a Kia. (Side note: It was good for 31 miles per gallon on the way home.) So, Baldy and I were off to D.C.

Baldy reacts to the news that we're only driving through New Jersey and not staying there.
6. Spent Wednesday night at the home of Neil Greenberger, my friend, mentor and former boss at The Washington Post whose pearls of wisdom included, in response to a question about bringing dates to an office gathering, "If everyone had to bring a date, nobody would be there."

7. On Thursday morning, I assured Neil I'd be finished in the morning and would head back to New Hampshire that night. I left Baldy at his place to play with his cocker spaniel, Chaos. Drove 35 minutes from Damascus, Md., into the embassy-heavy part of D.C.

8. Walked into the consular office, went to the appropriate window, and was told, "We don't give Apostille here." I told the man that yes, I know that, but the Ministry of Interior in Seoul told me to come here and fill out a request form. Got a blank stare. Told him I'd come back in a second and went to the bathroom to cool off. He was not impressed. Little did I know that by the end of the day we'd be like family, with him calling himself my older brother.

9. Returned to the window. The man, Mr. Jang, referred me to this website. You will notice the distinct lack of English on this site. He finally gave me an address (in Korean) and told me all I needed to do was send a photocopy of my passport photo page with the criminal record check there.

10. Recruited a Korean student in the embassy to help me translate the address into English.

11. Left before the embassy's lunch break. The parking lot behind the embassy was so crowded, I could not pull out, so I took a cab ($10) to the nearest FedEx store. Bought two envelopes. Wrote the addresses on each -- one heading to Korea, the other coming back to me.

12. Returned to the consular office after eating Thai for lunch. Handed Mr. Jang the envelopes. He corrected a part of the address and found out the postal code. I was getting relaxed now ... it was just after 1:30 and I was doing everything the embassy was telling me to do, so surely my work would be over soon. He gave me a post-it for me to write a polite note to the Apostille office.

13. Sensing I now had a rapport with Mr. Jang, I repeated what the office in Seoul told me. I reiterated, calmly, that the Seoul office told me the embassy in D.C. would have a form for me to fill out.

14. As if something clicked, Mr. Jang decided to double-check. Maybe I was right after all. Mr. Jang
  • Problem 1: There were two people behind me with things they needed to do.
  • Problem 2: The man indeed found the Apostille request form I needed -- but told me he could not download and print it because he had to be a member of this website.
So know I knew I was right -- I did need a form. Sending my record check without this form would not be enough. I was tantalizingly close to getting this form and finishing this task properly, but this form, which Mr. Jang could see on the Internet, could not be downloaded or printed.

15. Mr. Jang gave me another website to look at -- which I did, hopelessly.

16. Now it's getting close to 2:30. Mr. Jang told me that there was nothing else we could do today. He suggested I call Seoul that night and have them fax an Apostille request form to the embassy in D.C. He then informed me that there was no reason I couldn't have done this in Boston. (Wonderful.) But full credit to Mr. Jang -- nobody representing South Korea was battling for me harder than he was.

16a. He offered a bit of hope: He'd continue to search for the form and would call me if he succeeded.

17. I drove to northwest D.C., to the Tenley neighborhood I often hung out in during my days at American University. Boy, I miss taco pizza at Maggie's. Anyway, I was downcast, and not just about Maggie's. I called Neil, my sister and mom and told them all I'd be in DC another night. Then I opted to stick around in the event he found the form. Bought an international calling card ($2 for an hour) from a Korean clerk at Tenley Mini Mart so I could call Seoul from Neil's house. Considered what would happen if this Apostille was just not possible to get.

18. Visited the National Cathedral. As I exited the parking garage, I got a call from the consular office. Phone hiccuped a bit, but I put two and two together (five, right?), snapped two photos of the cathedral, and returned to the consular.

National Cathedral, sixth-largest cathedral in the world.
19. Got the form, which is written in Korean. Entered a side office. Mr. Jang recruited two visitors to translated the form for me and help me fill it out. Mr. Jang also told me to add two U.S. dollar bills in the package for the processing fee, which could not be processed in D.C. Sounded good to me.

20. Finally, I relaxed on the couch and made small talk with Mr. Jang and another co-worker, who said he worked so hard to find the form because he took a shine to me -- again, utterly unpredictable considering the abrupt conversation when this day started seemingly two weeks earlier. I told the man I'd buy him a present, whatever he wanted. "A woman," he said. I think a postcard from Prague will work. We laughed, he gave me his card and I floated out of the office.

21. Drove to the FedEx store. Sent the package, which arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade offices in Seoul at 10:28 local time Monday morning.

22. Drove to Neil's in a thunderstorm. Didn't care.

23. Returned to New Hampshire on Friday.

So, this isn't over yet. I still need the form back from Korea. But the fact that I finished something that was deemed "almost impossible" feels pretty good, at least it did until I wrote this next sentence. Cost for getting the record check and the Apostille -- mostly for the international shipping, car rental, tolls and gas for drives to Boston and D.C. -- has been in the neighborhood of $600. The gift for Mr. Jang will have to be an inexpensive one ...

1 comment:

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