Ohhhh…where do I start??
So the very first thing that about a billion people will tell you–once they find out you are PCSing (moving for the rest of us)–to Italy is that you absolutely must have an official government passport. This is NOT the same thing as the American tourist passport which is usually blue. The government-issue passports are maroon, or brown. Whatever. But they are definitely not blue. There is no mistaking one for the other.
The other thing that you must have is an Italian visa. This is basically a stamp inside your official passport that lets the Italians know, you really do have the right to be in the country, and that you won’t become a burden on Italian society because you already have a job lined up..
So I thought I was ahead of the game because hey–I already had an official passport. So I trotted over to the Passport office at my home station…only to find out that the guy who used to do passports was no longer there and that there was an active duty Airman who was doing them as an additional duty. And naturally, she was TDY (away on temporary duty) for the next few weeks.
So me, being the smart cookie I am, went over to the Army side of the base so that I could get the ball rolling on the Visa. And that’s when things went from vaguely annoying to downright cray-cray.
The guy who did visas over there was just…weird. There is literally no other word for it. I was creeped out from the beginning. What made it even worse was that he didn’t really seem to know what he was doing.
(Rule #1: Always, always read everything at least three times)
So he was trying to tell me that I would need to send my paperwork in to the consulate in Philadelphia. I, having read the instructions, knew that my visa paperwork, went to the office in Crystal City, Virginia. After telling me about 30 times how the Italians would send back the paperwork for any little mistake they find, he printed out about 20 copies of the application form. (Ummm…isn’t this the digital age? I do have computer in my office that I can download the application from. Just sayin’…)
Anyway, he also told me (about 50 times) how the rules change every single day, so every time I brought back a completed application, he would have to print out the latest rules. Okay…but, if the rules that applied to me were on only 2 of the 30 pages that regulated visa, why did he print the ENTIRE THING out every time I went over there? I could hear the trees crying in protest.
I sat there for three hours…in which he hemmed and hawed about God knows what, I was then informed that since my passport would expire prior to the end of my duty tour, that I would have to obtain another one. And I guess he couldn’t have told me that first and saved three hours of my life that I can Never. Get. Back.
After that, I’d had enough. I decided I’d just wait for the Airman to return and go through her office. There was only so much that one relatively normal person could take.
So in the end, she finally returned adn we got the official passport paperwork sent off. The passport came back about a month later, and we applied for the visa, which came back in about three weeks. I told her that I’d literally been traumatized from my experience on the Army side. She just shook her head and said she heard that a lot.
Note: You cannot apply for the official passport and visa at the same time. You must have the official passport first. You definitely don’t want to wait until the last minute to get these taken care of. If a lot of people are moving around the same timeframe as you, a backlog could occur. And understand this: The Italians will not let you into the country without the official passport and visa if you are a DoD civilian on orders. And if you do somehow manage to sneak in, you’ll be sent either to Germany or back to the States to obtain your visa. It’s definitely not a risk worth taking, so just be smart, and get it done as early as possible.