How to get out of Serbia without a passport

Well now that we have established this is going to the be the world's worst holiday blog, it containing no actual information about what the fearsome foursome have actually done on holiday, it might as well get a bit practical.

From the previous posting, you may have noted that yours truly lost a pile of goodies, including that prehistoric-yet-essential bit of paper, the passport. This causes problems because, believe it or not, even though it's the 21st century, a quick flash of the last page of the little red book that is the passport is apparently essential to move between countries. As well as get into the Exit festival of course. The problem was to some extent exacerbated insomuch as the return flight was supposed to be back via Budapest, which for the geographically challenged is not in the same country as Novi Sad, Serbia. There was little keenness on my part to tackle the fearsome armed border patrol there so one had to do the right thing and acquire a new one. Simple, one might think. Not really so.

For anyone else (who is British, in terms of passportness) who likewise loses or has their passport stolen in Serbia, or even more specifically in the Exit Festival - and there were quite a few who did for whatever reason - here's what you need to do. It is not quite as simple as "go to the embassy".

Firstly, some preparation is in order. If you really want to simulate the Poorhouse experience then you should ensure you:

  • have had no sleep for a good 30 hours or so
  • have spent the last 4 days hardcore raving as much as possible, interspersed with lying on the beach taking as many substances as you can lay your hands on (note to police: all legal of course, don't you know).
  • have little practical common sense in the first place
  • are in the middle of the hottest weather known to humanity
  • are attempting a solo mission, with no physical backup to correct schoolboy errors
  • do not know a word of the Serbian language and struggle communicating in the English one given the weather has turned your throat into a hard, rasping lump

Firstly, go to the British Embassy. The only embassy is in Belgrade, so you need to travel there first. You could go by regular buses or trains, but if you're in the poor, poor state of my good self paying the extra to get a taxi from Novi Sad for ~ 50 euros is probably a safer option. The only danger here came from a) the taxi driver reaching the pick-up point rather before I did, and b) the amounts of slobber deposited on my shirt whilst trying to grab 2 minutes sleep here and there in between taxi-driver banter.

The trip takes maybe an hour and a half or so, the embassy opens at 8am so leave at 6 if you want to be one of the first in the queue which is probably not a bad idea. Well, not if you took the precaution of having sleep anyway. It should also be noted that the embassy, despite it's rather great supposed importance in saving us citizens, closes early on Friday and doesn't even open at all Saturday and Sunday so us weekend losers have to wait til Monday and pay for extra accommodation, flights, transport etc. to accommodate it.

You will need to take any documentation you have about the passport loss or your original passport details. Absolutely essential is the police report. You can get this from a police station, or if in Exit festival grounds itself there was a table of cops hanging around near the entrance. You also need 2 passport photos taken in traditionally sensible styles. Who knows where you get these in Novi Sad, but there is a Kodak digital photo shop up the hill and left a bit from the British Embassy in Belgrade that does them, on the road opposite the tramstop. It also opens around 8am. Conveniently there is a park just down from it too, where those of us following the tramp lifestyle could potentially (but it didn't happen) grab a sleep.

Then make your way to the Embassy. Post-Exit Fest there is likely to be quite a queue of people here. Push your way in front of those which just seem to have turned up for some sick sort of entertainment. Hit the buzzer. Allow the lady to scream at you a few times through the intercom which is less clear than the average UK station announcer, and finally decide to batter the door in and enter. You then have to go through more doors, the sequence being push, push then pull, before a surprisingly friendly security guy gives you a pass and removes anything fun you might have brought with you.

Go to the Visa bit and prepare for massive waits. Hours pass as you get told to stand in a queue, shouted at because you went to stand in a queue, actually speak to someone and fill in some rather lengthy forms. It will absolutely help if you have a photocopy of your old passport and some memory of the night of the great loss. You also need 6995 Serbian dinars, which is probably around 60 UK pounds - but it must be in dinars. If you attempt to give them 7000 it works, but along with the rest of the Serbia customer service industry you will get royally abused for not having the right change. The Poorhouse opinion: if you want people to give you the right change, make your prices a nice round number.

Note that you will be receiving an "emergency passport", which is a sheet of A4 paper with a few bits of info on. This only works for one journey and is then confiscated, so in your own time you will have to spend further massive amounts of money buying a fully fledged one. Another bonus is that nowhere will understand the concept or appearance of the emergency passport, so you will have many many almost vicious conversations that you will wish to end with the "**** off and ring the ambassador if you don't believe me" type sentiments as they get half ready to shove you into the Guantanamo issued orange suit. On the plus side for us ignorant Britons, the embassy staff speak good English.

Once done here, it's another waiting room. To follow my example, fall asleep 8 times whilst sitting in the uncomfortable chairs. There is certainly time for it. Eventually you'll get your tatty bit of paper and can leave.

However in Serbia this is not enough to get you out of the country. You need an exit visa with an emergency passport. To do this, go to the police station (ask the embassy for a map if you don't know where it is; it is in walking distance). Now many of these guys don't really speak English and the weather will have heated up, your head started spinning even faster and your temperament become bad-asser. They will tell you to go ask at the police station, but this is not quite correct. Here's what you need to do. Start off by not going to the police station.

Instead, walk down a couple of blocks worth of buildings to the left of the police station if you are facing its main entrance. You will come across a shop labelled in rather unsuitably day-glo letters "VIZAS". This is step one. Go in and wait for the woman to finish counting her money. Minutes later, realise she really isn't going to so do whatever harsher variant of the polite "I'm here" cough it takes to get some attention. Here you need to hand over your embassy-gotten emergency passport and some more money (I forget how much, not a great deal) and she'll print out a few bits of paper and snarl at you a bit. Take these and run back to the police station. I say run, but by this stage if the weather is nice and irrationally hot and you are carrying most everything you own on your back, a mere plague-victim-like death crawl as every part of your body attempts to shut down is probably more realistic.

This time you may enter the station but don't accidentally wander into the police bit. Instead there is a bank thing on the left as you enter. Go there and hand over the pieces of paper. Oh, and some money of course, perhaps something in the region of 3000 dinars. She'll faff around a bit and eventually you'll get the papers back, but, unsurprisingly, not your money. How you do all this should you be poor, lose your bank cards and/or not have wonderously lovely friends & family around to pay your faux-bail is anyone's idea.

Go left from the bank bit and through the "Foreigner's department" doors of the cop shop. Here you need to attract the attention of someone. Short of randomly busting in doors of less than enthused police people, the best strategy appeared to be to wait for one to come out and jump on them with all the bits of paperwork you can find. There is, to be fair, at least one surprisingly pleasant and helpful woman there, even if she did get a little concerned and annoyed as I repeatedly spasmodically dropped my bits of paper and had too many of the sunstroke/bodily abuse/tiredness shakes to open up a simple sheet of A4.

You'll then be taken in for a brief interview and your documents confiscated. You might as well find a seat again because there is another big, big wait. Eventually out they come and you should get your emergency passport sheet back with an exit visa label on the back. This is supposedly everything you need to live a happy and fulfilling life as you take advantages of passport-enabled life. Well, for those few, few people that seem to accept the admittedly fake-looking thing does supposedly confer the rights of a passport give or take. Check back later to see if it actually works to get you back to England or not.

Estimate time to complete: for the Poorhouse it took a good 10 hours all in. It could be done in less with if fewer impediments were wrecking your mind. To be honest though, if you find you quite like the idea of living in Serbia I would just do that. Alternatively committing various crimes might get you a free deportation.

Estimated cost: best part of £500 if you have to reschedule flights, accommodation etc.

Estimated emotional outcome: not good ones


fond memories

This all sounds remarkably familiar...just like the dog-years I spent outside/inside you marvellous home office IND dpartment when THEY lost our passports. I'll tell you all about it sometime.

Glad to see the British

Glad to see the British can't even get it right in their own country. Mind you, as I remember you were invading our green and hallowed lands whereas I just wanted to escape theirs. I must admit it probably wasn't their government that lost/stole my passport mind, that is something special indeed. I look forward to the story.

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