Getting a Visa and Getting Through Customs

Married to an Irish national, I knew getting a visa wouldn’t present any great challenge, and that I’d circumvent much of the red tape. I couldn’t have predicted how painless, rather, how relaxed, the visa process would be. After a scenic drive to our adjacent seaside village, we presented my passport, our marriage certificate, and a couple of kids to the immigration officer.

Maybe the guarda employed some secret Irish police intuition that we weren’t aware of, but after an exchange of niceties, I was granted the right of legal residence and permission to work in Ireland for the next five years. No huge stack of forms, no questions, no oaths, no raising of the right hand. The guarda was genial to a fault. Coming from a nation, or maybe a generation, that fears most police, I was a little put off by just how nice he was.

Within a week, the guarda personally hand delivered my documents, with my passport’s freshly stamped visa. I probably could have induced him to stay for a cup of tea, had he not had more deliveries to make. Hand deliveries from a government official? Incredible! I’d had far more trouble merely getting my American passport re-issued. I’d had more trouble getting our lost suitcase out of Aer Lingus! I’d had to fill out more forms, and had to wait longer for that delivery.

Of course, an American friend in the more chaotic Dublin City told me a very different story. She’d waited several days in long, miserable lines, trying to get her work permit. She’d had her share of forms and questions.

My next hurdle with Irish methodology was clearing Customs and Excise. The fact that our ship steamed into the Port of Dublin on Friday the 13th did little to settle my nerves.

Our run in with Customs proved nothing more than a formality. My American shippers had prepared me, flawlessly. Our four pallets of belongings were fully inventoried, with each box’s contents clearly marked. I tagged each and every box, per orders, with a strip of masking tape proclaiming: ” For personal use only. All items used. . . . .”  I had all the proof required in the importation guidelines to establish our previous United States residency. I was armed with bank statements, pay stubs, water, and electric bills. I had brought our medical records, social security cards, library cards, insurance records, letters of recommendation, you name it, I had it. It was truly embarrassing, but it was there.

In the end, we met with a guy who was either too cool or too reasonable to allow us to call him by anything but his first name. He shoved the papers back at me as fast as I could slide them across his desk, saying, “No, no, I don’t need this”. He had us in and out of his office in less than fifteen minutes, in plenty of time for lunch at Bischoff’s. As we munched our deep fried mushrooms, we could scarcely believe that all that was left to do was to find a truck, hand over our approved import form, and drive our boxes home.

He hadn’t even asked for my special silver importation forms.  Not an issue.

Over lunch, I insisted I had heard Irish custom’s horror stories, of boxes being opened, contents strewn across the docks. I’d heard about people held up at the last moment, unable to produce some obscure item of documentation. My husband nodded kindly and agreed with me in an infuriatingly patronizing tone. He’s Irish. He’d tried to tell me we wouldn’t need all that stuff.

Excerpted and adapted from “And Now: 15 Months in Ireland” the third in the series by Lori Alexander in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 32.