Documentation Really IS Everything

Much happened in the last six months! Not being a practiced blogger, I have failed to update this as I should have. Instead, I have been working, preparing to ship my things, going on a trip with my fiancé to Texas and Washington to see friends and family before I leave the States, e-shopping for things I need to bring with me (and early Christmas shopping), enjoying the time with my chosen family, and playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (note: that game is amazeballs and a total time suck!!)

But enough about what has kept me busy! It’s time for…

The Application Aggravation, Acceptance, and Approval

(Or the continuing headache of dealing with VFS Global.)

On May 15, 2017, I submitted my application to UDI for temporary residence, on the basis of family immigration for those getting married. Trygve and I went over the checklist multiple times (mostly at my insistence), and there were several emails back-and-forth to UDI to clarify things. Yet, somehow, VFS Global still required at least one thing not included on the checklist, and the Consulate required something misrepresented on the checklist. They required a copy of my receipt for payment of the fees to UDI (never mind the fact that I wouldn’t have the cover letter without first paying), and they also tried to require a copy of Trygve’s old passport because he had no used pages in his current one (Norway doesn’t return old passports when renewing). Further, the checklist on UDI’s website clearly states that I only needed a copy of my passport, and VFS Global, after “checking into it,” confirmed that was all I needed. Turns out, the Consulate required my actual passport, which I had to send to them via FedEx, and then have them send back to me.

Then, after the Consulate sent it back to me, I received an e-mail from VFS Global stating, “A decision on your Visa application reference number: [####] has been made by the Royal Norwegian Embassy/Consulate General in New York. Your processed application has been received at the Norwegian Visa Application Centre and is ready for collection.” Unfortunately, this was false. This was an auto-generated email that did not apply to me or my case. They apparently send these emails to those who have sent their passports in for Visa stickers when the passports come back from the Embassy. But they didn’t have my passport (I paid for its return with my shiny FedEx account), nor did they have this decision they’d emailed me about. Instead, they received the letter and notary acknowledgement page I’d mailed with my passport to the Embassy in New York. When I asked about the fact that they gave me only three pieces of paper and an empty envelope, and asked about the decision, they could only tell me that I’d receive it directly from the Embassy in a couple months. So, that was basically a waste of time, money, gas, and time off, not to mention the aggravation of sitting in rush hour traffic in San Francisco.

I did, in fact, receive my decision within the time frame they gave me. On August 7, 2017, the Consular Officer processing my case emailed me my approval letter, with a final date of entry into Norway on February 7, 2018. It’s official!!

Moving Money and Mountains for Marriage

(Or how to navigate the copious amount of red tape.)

The Hague Convention of 1961 is specifically to “abolish the requirement of diplomatic or consular legalisation for foreign public documents.” And here I thought I’d only see mention of the Hague Convention at work! Men, nei! (But, no!) There are downsides to being a planner, but this is not one of them. During my investigation of what Skatteetaten (The Norwegian Tax Authority) requires from the bride- and groom-to-be, I discovered that I needed a copy of the Final Decree of Dissolution (divorce). And this can’t just be any copy; it has to be a copy with an Apostille. In order to receive an Apostille, the document must first be certified/notarized. Well, I had my original certified copy available, but Montana (where I was divorced) doesn’t affix an Apostille to any documents more than 5 years old. So, I had to request a new certified copy from the county that processed my divorce, then, once I received that, send it to another office in Montana for an Apostille.

Norway also has this thing called a “Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage.” Since Trygve and I want to marry shortly after I arrive, and I want him to be able to submit all the documents to Skatteaten, I looked to the U.S. Dept. of State’s website. On there, they state (Hah-Pun!) that, “Some countries require an affidavit by the parties as proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract. No such government-issued document exists in the United States.” Of course. Lucky for me, I have a legal background, and writing out an affidavit is pretty much second-nature to me. (I wrote a 3-page Affidavit, with the Notary portion included, that gave every possible reason as to why I could not obtain a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, and my status as a legally single woman. In total, with Exhibits, this ended up being 39 pages.)

Now, an affidavit may be authorized/certified by a U.S. Consular Officer, but it does not have to be! They charge $50 USD for each certification, plus the added hassle of making an in-person appointment at the Embassy. County Recorder offices rarely charge even half that amount. Many banks offer Notary services for free, and the Apostille is certifying only the Notary’s official act.

Pro-Tip #1: Beware of ridiculously expensive services that offer Apostilles!! These are all things you can do on your own for MUCH cheaper, and likely in a more expedient manner.

Pro-Tip #2: Get yourself a personal FedEx, UPS, or USPS account for ease of mailing documents with prepaid return envelopes and labels.

Pro-Tip #3: Make sure the Notarial Act for your affidavit is a JURAT. With a Jurat, you are swearing to the veracity of the contents of the document in the presence of the Notary, who will also witness your signature.

The Purrfect Plight of Pet-Owners

(Or why comfort is key to your pet’s best travel experience.)

If you haven’t yet, please read the section on pet travel in my prior post. As an addendum to all the information there, I have also discovered that you can (and should) book an appointment with a local (or local-ish) APHIS port office well in advance of a scheduled flight for certification of the required veterinary documents. If you cannot see them in person, keep in mind that the 10-day travel window for your pet starts from when your veterinarian signs the documents, not when APHIS certifies them. Additionally, they can verify that the veterinarian you intend to see and have fill out the paperwork is, in fact, USDA-Approved.

Every airline has different requirements, and can conceivably measure your pet in two different ways: either from nose to butt, or nose to tail’s end. Depending on the pet, this could result in two very different measurements, and remember that if your crate/carrier is not long enough, tall enough, or wide enough, your pet will not be approved for flight.

I found one pet carrier company, Petmate, who makes extra-tall carriers (their Sky Kennel) pretty specifically to meet airline carrier requirements. Honestly, the quality of the plastic isn’t fantastic, but the size is perfect, so it’s worth the lesser plastic quality. They sell their carriers on Amazon (insert shameless plug for Amazon Smile to help support charities). I purchased the one for pets 10-20lbs, even though my cat is only 9lbs, and I recommend going up a size for your pet–you’ll be glad you did.

I also decided to go out on a limb and purchase a travel kit from a website I wasn’t entirely certain about. DryFur put together a superb travel kit for pets that has almost everything you need for pet airline travel. My only suggestion is that, if you purchase anything smaller than the “large” version, you also purchase the large food and water cups, as the small ones are really too small for a cat to put its face into. I had to take the spill-proof tops off the smaller cups so Hilo (my cat) could eat. I also purchased a package of the DryFur Carrier Inserts in medium, and they fit perfectly into the crate. I purchased a complementary water dispenser to attach to the outside of the cage that is a top-fill bottle so staff will have an easier time watering her if necessary–there are several styles available on Amazon and other pet store websites. The one I purchased (Choco Nose H220 Patented No Drip Top-fill) was a little tricky to attach to the Sky Kennel because of the grating on the door, but I was able to make it fit.

Make sure you have a harness available, as you may have to walk your pet through security if they are going in the cabin with you. I will find out more about this later when I take Hilo to the ticket counter as a pet-as-cargo. I went with the Voyager All Weather Step-in Mesh Harness because they had it available in an extra small, and it’s all-weather, which will be important moving to Norway. I also purchased a leash for her, Max and Neo Reflective Nylon Dog Leash, partially because the color more closely-matched that of the harness, and partially because they donate a leash to dog rescue for every leash they sell, which is pretty darn awesome.

I invested in a couple self-warming cat beds/pads. I purchased one for the trip in the crate, which will likely be disposed of afterward if she pees on it at all, and another for once we arrive at our destination. This is probably one of the best purchases I’ve made. I tried getting her a cat tree and a cat bed before and she ignored both of them. At least for the one that’s going into her crate, K&H Manufacturing Crate Pad for Pets, Self-Warming/Mocha, she won’t get off it most of the time. She absolutely LOVES that thing, which is great because I want something familiar to her when she’s flying. (The one I purchased for her new Norwegian home is the same brand, but a bit fuzzier/fluffier. I may have to bite the bullet and buy another of the one she’s currently using, though!)

Lastly, she’s going on more car rides with me to make sure she’s comfortable in the crate and doesn’t associate it with always going to the vet, which is traumatic for her. If you have pets who are anxious travellers, I highly suggest you start getting them to love their crate well in advance of your trip. A friend of mine who moved to Denmark with her cat suggested not only this, but also leaving treats inside the crate for positive reinforcement.

Well, that’s all the sagely advice and hard-won information I have for today. Check out the Resources section, which will be updated with links and information from this post. Stay tuned for an impending update on the shipment of my belongings to Norway!

 

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RSVP Required: Planning Ahead

I started this blog about six months ago and resolved to write about my experiences as they happened. Unfortunately, life got away from me and that didn’t happen, so I have a lot to update!

Christmas came and went, and it was wonderful. I made pinnekjøtt for the first time for my boyfriend (and it was delicious). We had a (largely) proper Norwegian Christmas by opening presents on Christmas Eve, but we still had my American stockings on Christmas morning.

I recently travelled to Norway for the second time and I’m even more in love than I was the first time. I met more of my boyfriend’s family, and made his mother a cake for her birthday, which was a huge success (and a surprise to me, as it was the first cake I ever baked). We visited his friends in Oslo and vowed never to take the night train again–sleeping in a sleeper car is difficult, at best.

Language lessons with Kariin are going well, and I expect to ramp them up a bit to every other week instead of every three weeks, with the hope of taking the Bergenstest in September, especially since things have changed.

Part I: Degrees of Change

(Or what a job-seeking skilled worker really has to do to get a job in Norway.)

Something that isn’t necessarily advertised on the UDI website regarding those persons wishing to apply as a job-seeking skilled worker is that you must obtain a position directly relevant to your upper secondary (Bachelors degree or higher) education. That would be a handy piece of information to have up front, but we only discovered this through a friend of his who has considerable experience with immigration law in Norway. Thank goodness!

On the personal side of this, my degree is in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and while that degree is only offered in one school in Norway (and therefore makes for a smaller pool of candidates), the possibility of finding a job with my degree would be slim to none due to a smaller job market. Add to that the stress of having to secure a full-time position within six months of my arrival, and it’s a recipe for failure with the likely outcome of the authorities sending me packing back to the States.

As such, my boyfriend and I have decided to get married (something we’d discussed previously), so this means I will be moving to Norway under the family reunification rules instead. This was an eventuality that we originally wanted to postpone until we lived together for a while, but after discovering the aforementioned key element of the job-seeking skilled worker class, we decided to take the plunge, as it were. I am happy about it, and we do plan to have a larger wedding later, when both my family and his can attend, but for now, we’re just going to have a civil ceremony shortly after I move.

Part II: Planning Ahead – Pet Edition

(Or the easiest part of planning ahead, if you ignore the impending airline issues.)

My boyfriend likes to tease me sometimes about my need to plan things well in advance, but this is one instance in which it pays to plan ahead. I have a kitty. She is an awesome kitty and I love her. The biggest trip she’s been on was a trip to Anaheim, which was hours upon hours in the car, in which she was out of the cage for most of the time and hid under either my seat or my boyfriend’s seat, and generally refused to eat or drink. Needless to say, I’m a bit concerned at the idea of sticking her on a plane without me nearby. Not only that, but I was concerned about what paperwork I need to have for her and how to obtain what the authorities need insofar as documentation to ensure a smooth transition without a stressful quarantine.

First, I discovered that I can only enter the country in Oslo (Gardermoen Int’l Airport), as that is where the Official veterinarian at the Border Inspection Post is located. I sent an email to the wonderfully helpful people at BIP and received the following response:

I understand your cat is from USA and has not lived outside of USA? If this is the case, a blood test is not necessary. You will not need a pet passport, this is only for animals born in an EU country. Attached is the certificate you must use for the cat. This is first filled in by your regular veterinarian, the sent to the USDA for endorsement. After endorsement by USDA it is valid for 10 days. You must sign the owners declaration in the certificate.

 The cat must be microchipped prior to rabies vaccination. It must be given a rabies vaccine when it is 12 weeks old or older. This is valid after a waiting period of 21 days. You must bring the rabies vaccination certificate from your vet and the veterinary certificate (see attachment). As soon as you have booked the flight, you can inform us about arrival date and time.

The attachment mentioned is a generic Model Animal Health Certificate form, with slashes through appropriate areas, but not a fillable form. I was able to find the correct document on the APHIS website, and they have different requirements depending on how you travel relative to the animal (and also the amount and type of animals). If you are not travelling with any dogs, you should use this link. On that page, they have fillable forms (this one is for no dogs, a cat over 16 weeks old, and travelling on the same plane as the owner), complete with instructions on how to fill them out, and which sections the owner fills out or the veterinarian fills out.

Part III: Planning Ahead – UDI/VFS Global Edition

(Or a migraine wrapped in a headache surrounded by seemingly endless aggravation and drizzled with ignorance syrup.)

Generally speaking, UDI is pleasant enough to deal with, as is the consulate. However, their “partner” for accepting applications is wholly unhelpful and lacking in knowledge about, say, the fact that I can actually immigrate on a family visa as a fianceé to a Norwegian citizen.

First off, only talk to someone at the consulate, or email UDI, to ask questions regarding the actual immigration process. I cannot stress this enough, as I wasted hours of time off, gas, and highway-robbery parking fees to visit what I thought was the consulate, but actually was VFS Global, who gave me no information I didn’t already have.

VFS Global is a third party middle-man of sorts, who accepts (for a fee) applications and then forwards them to the consulate in New York for processing. In fact, their email address is norway@travisaoutsourcing.com. You will not get answers from anyone at VFS Global regarding the actual process if you have questions. Any response you do get, you may need a translation for, as I’m not entirely sure they speak English. As an example, the response I received from them when I emailed with many process-related questions was:

Thank you for your message. Biometric center do not provide information regarding questions what you have written down. Biometric center purpose is accept visa/resident permit requirements for the type of visa/resident permit you are applying for and forward this information to consulate. Visa officer at that time will contact applicant directly if additional information is required. Same time per consulate traveler is required to follow requirements directly from consulate website. Biometric center is not able to respond to your queries. Please contact directly with consulate.

VFS Global’s fee–which is in addition to the UDI application fee–is $33, plus a fee for requiring a signature on delivery ($3.95, if desired), shipping ($30 for FedEx overnight-required selection), and processing ($1.89 without delivery signature, $2.01 with delivery signature). Add another $16 with processing if you want to upload your passport photo instead of handing it into them in person. You cannot get around using VFS Global, as the consulates no longer accept visa applications in person at any of the consulates. 

(Little Tidbit: The consulate seems to think people can opt out of having the items shipped to them and opt for in-person pickup, but this is not the case through their ordering system. I was specifically told by someone at the consulate that, “You don’t have to pay any courier fee if you pick up your passport in person at the VFS office once we have sent it back to VFS.” I wish. Honestly, though, with the cost of gas and parking in San Francisco, I think the shipping cost would be comparable.)

So, the tl;dr version of this–to save yourself a massive headache–is basically to deal with VFS Global only when you have to and simply ask UDI or the consulate any questions about the actual immigration process.

Part IV: Planning Ahead – The Dreaded Driver’s License Edition

(Or headache redux.) 

For me, this is one of the worst parts about moving. I have juvenile myoclonis, which is a form of epilepsy. Although I’ve been seizure-free since October 2001, the process of getting my license was originally a pain in the you-know-what. Transferring a driver’s license in Norway from the US is not as simple as it was when I moved to Canada, or even when I moved back to the States. For Canada, I just needed a doctor’s certification to transfer my license. Norway is different.

I’ve taken one driving test in my lifetime, and that was the one I took over ten years ago in California when I originally obtained my driver’s license. I’ve taken two written tests: one in California and one in Montana. (The one in Montana was when I moved back from Canada and transferred my license back to the States.) In Norway, transferring your license requires a practical (driving) exam, and you only get one chance to pass the test. If you fail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go back to the beginning and enroll in the entire gamut of driving theory and practical practice, which is very costly.

The driving test isn’t just a simple driving test, either. The instructor will apparently ask questions that would otherwise be on a written test. As someone who already gets test anxiety, this makes the prospect of transferring my driver’s license even more anxiety-inducing, and makes me question the legality of taking a small dose of lorazepam prior to the test to even out the jitters.

Once upon a time, Americans could simply exchange their driver’s license without a practical exam, but that has changed, according to the regulations. Due to the extraordinarily high cost of going through the entire driver education programme, I have uncovered the following to avoid that potentiality:

  • Resolve to spend a little more money upfront to avoid spending A LOT more if you fail the test. Full driver education programs cost upward of $2,000 (USD), and are required if you fail the test. I know some people have spent far more than $2,000 (USD) on trying to get their driver’s license in Norway.
  • The practical exam itself costs 1040kr, and the theoretical exam costs 600kr.
  • Find a place to take the test that isn’t in a dense city (i.e. Oslo!). Cities have a high fail rate
  • Find a good driver education school where you want to take the test, and have at least a few lessons prior to the test. The cost varies depending on the school (try to get recommendations); I will be paying 650kr per 45 minutes.
  • You will have to rent a vehicle for the practical exam from a driving school, as it needs the special passenger driving tools in case the proctor needs to take control. I have been told that if you take courses with a school, many will allow the use of the vehicle for free.
  • Use the Teoritentamen app/website. Sign up for the 30-day access (449kr) for the courses and practice exams.
  • Get and study The Road to Getting Your Driving License (485kr) along with the Q&A Workbook (297kr).
  • Get help from Norwegian family and friends who are licensed drivers.
  • If you want to be able to drive a manual transmission vehicle, you have to take the test in a manual transmission vehicle. If you do not, you will only be licensed to drive automatic vehicles!
  • Remember that you only have one year to get your license transferred over to Norway. After that, you have to go through all the driver education as if you were a new driver, and your American driver’s license is no longer valid. You can be charged as a criminal if you drive with an invalid license, which bars your ability to enroll in driver education courses, and, therefore, bars you from obtaining a license for however long they decide to place you on probation. (I recommend starting the process no more than six months after you establish residence to account for a 3-month processing time and any possible delays.)

I’m still inquiring about the specifics on the issue surrounding my epilepsy, but so far, Statens vegvesen has not mentioned the need for a doctor’s certification, since I already have a driver’s license. I’m going to get a statement from my doctor, regardless, and also get in to see a neurologist in Norway once I’m there (also because I need a new prescription for my meds). So far, this is what they’ve told me:

There are some exchange requirements that your driving licence must meet. This is some of the requirements:

The driving licence must be issued in one of the countries acknowledged for exchange

Your driving entitlement must be of equal value and valid.

You must have obtained your driving entitlement during a continuous stay in the issuing country of at least six months.

How to apply:
You have to meet in person at your local Driver and Vehicle Licensing Office, and bring the following:

a completed application – the application form is available here 

your foreign driving licence

passport

residence permit

residence certificate – it can be ordered from www.skatteetaten.no

If you have driving entitlements in heavy vehicle categories, you have to bring a medical certificate. The medical certificate can be dated no longer than 3 months ago. This may apply to you relative the information you provide. If so, You must obtain a health certificate from a Norwegian doctor, of course you can bring your papers from the United States to the doctor. Check with the traffic station when you apply for a trade in.

You do not need an appointment to deliver the application. Click here to find a list of Driver and Vehicles Licensing Offices and opening hours. (Norwegian text only)

You will get the decision by post

Once the application is processed, you will receive the decision by post. Estimated processing time is three months.  If the exchange is granted, the decision will include information on what you must do next.

Additional information about exchanging your driving licence is available on our webpage. Please note the deadlines for exchanging your driving licence.

Relevant regulations: the Driving licence regulations § 10-2 (Norwegian text only)

They didn’t quite answer my question regarding my epilepsy, but I feel it’s better to be safe than sorry, and I fully plan to have documentation from my neurologist here in the States, as well as a neurologist in Norway.

Well, that’s all the sagely advice and hard-won information I have for today. Check out the Resources section, which will be updated with links and information from this post.

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In the beginning…

The only other time I’ve had a “blog” was way back in the days of LiveJournal. Yes, I’m dating myself here, because I had a free account before you needed an invite for a free account. Those were the days of my crazy youth–before I really knew where I wanted to go in life.

Life has many twists and turns to keep us on our toes, and one of those I didn’t expect in my life was the one that saw me falling in love with a Norwegian. Talk about long-distance! We weren’t sure how it would work, or even if it would work, but we connected the first time we met in person, and it’s been wonderful ever since.

After my divorce in 2009, I swore I’d never move for a guy again, but after visiting Norway for the first time in February 2016, and seeing just how beautiful it is there, and how wonderful his family is (not to mention the potential for a better quality of life overall), I knew in my heart that’s where I wanted to be.

I now find myself in the beginning stages of not just becoming an expat, but doing so in a country that is over 5,000 miles (or 8,000 kilometers) away from my current home in California. A new language (more than one, actually, but I’ll get into that in another post), a new culture, a new style of government–everything will be new. Even though I’ve been there to visit, it’s certainly not the same as making such a life-altering decision to emigrate overseas.

I will have to find a new job! That in and of itself is a daunting prospect, especially given the rather punctuated time in which to do so: 6 months. Here, I have a fantastic job with fantastic benefits (for the States) because I’m a government/public employee. I love where I work, the people I work with, and what I do. While I’ll be moving as a job-seeking skilled worker since I have a 4-year degree, my experience is in the States and Canada, and solely in English. I’m at a distinct disadvantage, even if (from what I’ve heard) most Norwegians will readily speak English.

I also have to decide what to keep and what to get rid of through Goodwill or selling because I can’t just pack everything I own into a truck and move it myself. I can’t even take the car that I own. Do I ship via postal service? Do I hire a company? I’ve looked at companies, and not many of them have good reviews–and they’re all expensive.

This blog will likely be sparse in posts while I go about the journey that is expatriating until it gets closer to the actual time when I’m searching for jobs prior to my move. I will include links to things I’ve found useful and helpful for me in this epic adventure as I go along. Right now, those will mostly include language learning sites, but I will try to recommend other resources, as well.

Cheers.