I submitted my application for temporary residency, and it wasn't a Soviet nightmare!

Brand new, modern, efficient Passport Center in Ukraine (photo by Bogdan Gandziuk)

I had heard many horror stories from expats and Ukrainians about the nightmarish Soviet-style bureaucracy involved in obtaining immigration documents. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Ukraine has just within the last month started to offer foreigners the use of their new, modernized passport centers. I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort, ease, and efficiency of the experience. There were no long miserable queues, no petty bribes, no uncaring bureaucrats. There was even a coffee bar!

Nearly two weeks ago I obtained my Ukraine type “D” visa”, which was the second to the last step to obtaining temporary residency. The final step is to apply for a temporary residence permit at the relevant Ukrainian government office, with several documents:

  • Passport with “D” visa and border entry stamp
  • Original Ukraine work permit
  • Copies of proof of private Ukrainian health insurance policy
  • Employment agreement with company which is sponsoring residency (in my case this is a Ukrainian company I formed specifically for this purpose, though to make the process easier my Ukrainian lawyer is a director)
  • Residency application form
  • Application fee

I had been warned to anticipate a nightmarish Soviet-style bureaucracy, in which one shuffles through multiple slow-moving queues and hopes that the unpleasant bureaucrats will be satisfied with your documents or will not be too unreasonable in demanding bribes. Imagine my surprise when I went to the Ukrainian Passport Center here in Kyiv, located in a downtown shopping mall. It was well lit, staffed with young and surprisingly pleasant workers (who spoke English!), and used a take-a-number system so there were no long hours spent holding one’s place in a line. My Ukrainian lawyer even made an appointment online in advance, to minimize wait time.

As it happens, there was a mistake in my employment agreement document. Or rather, some legal terminology was not exactly to their liking. Normally this would mean yet another bureaucratic nightmare, but to my surprise the officer (a girl not more than 25; Ukraine seems to have purged much of their old civil service) gave us the office’s email address and allowed my lawyer to correct the document and email it to her, after which she printed it out for us to sign. Try doing that at a DMV in the US!

Because of this problem with the document it took about three hours to complete the process. Had the document been correct, the entire process soup to nuts would probably have been under 45 minutes. Considering that the conclusion of this process is a permit that allows a foreigner to live and work in Ukraine for three years, I’d say that’s astonishing.

Another surprise for me is that this center was overwhelmingly dealing with foreigners. Ukrainians go to this same office to get their passports issued or renewed, but there were easily 10 foreigners for every Ukrainian. But, strangely, no Europeans or Americans. As far as I could tell from the languages spoken, most of the applicants were from India, Pakistan, Arabic-speaking countries, and Africa. I’m told these groups come here because they can study in Ukraine’s top universities for much less than the alternatives, though I’m sure some of the applicants where coming here to work or start businesses. I bet this lack of Western representation won’t last. There’s just too much potential here to keep it a secret much longer.

Issuance of the permit takes up to three weeks. When it’s ready, the office will send a text message to my Ukrainian phone number, in English, and I’ll make an appointment to come back and obtain the actual permit card. Legally that is all that is required to live and work here, but in practice I will also need a Ukrainian bank account, about which more later.