While in Jordan I saw all of the main tourist sites, but I also had an opportunity to get off the beaten path with my local host family. I had the opportunity to see a place few foreigners have seen; In fact, I am willing to bet that no foreigner besides expats have been there before. I stepped into a drab, gray building bustling with people – the Department of Drivers and Vehicles Licensing; yes, I went to the Mecca of paperwork – the DMV.
Is there anyone out there who likes paperwork? The very mention of it makes you cringe; no matter what nationality you are – right?
One morning my host family asked me if I wanted to come with them to transfer their car ownership and I decided – what the hell, let’s see how the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) works in other parts of the world.
The trip was a fascinating cultural journey for me and like any DMV, when you walk into the building it appears as total chaos. Then, as your eyes and mind adjust to the scene, you start to figure it out, like a puzzle. The fact that it was all in a different language made this a bit more challenging than normal. However I was able to learn the following things just from observation and not really understanding the language:
- Men work with cars. The big room was occupied by 95% men. This shouldn’t surprise me too much in a Muslim country, but I certainly did stand out more than normal.
- Carbon Paper isn’t extinct. Remember those old dark blue-black sheets used for copying data…the old fashioned way? Well carbon paper sales are alive and kickin’ in Jordan. All of the forms had to be filled out in triplicate so you were handed the 3 sheets of paper and then directed to go purchase a piece of carbon paper to make it easier. I felt as if I had stepped back into early 1980’s again.
- Lines are deceiving. Lines were formed everywhere in front of each window. There was no ‘number/ticket’ system – it was all manual; first come, first serve – sort of. The lines seemed orderly from the back, but once you got towards the front of the line it was as if the order melted and everyone spread out in front of the window trying to shove their paper to the person behind the glass.
- Computers don’t rule the world. We were informed we had to go to the insurance office to finish some paperwork. I was a stunned when I walked into the guy’s office and there was just a big desk with stacks of paper, ashtrays, a fax machine, a hand stamp, and a portable heater. Apparently in 2011 it is possible to do work without a computer. I watched the man as he shuffled papers rapidly and then at the end he took the big hand stamp and “THWACK” he stamped the papers in triplicate, then turned to the fax machine and sent them somewhere. The work was done and we got up and moved on…Yella!
Overall, we were at the DMV for about 1 ½ hours moving from line to line as if it were a waltz; back, ahead, pause, back, repeat…in triplicate.
Watching all of this paperwork in action made me start thinking about the mountain of paperwork that would be consuming my life as I prepare for the Mongol Rally this summer; and 90% of it will be conducted in foreign countries. I will be traveling through 15 countries, most of which will make Jordan look like a well–oiled, smooth running, paperwork machine.
The paperwork mountain of the Mongol Rally:
Maps: We are in the process now of trying to simply sort out our route. We are using a combination of google maps, paper maps, and guidebooks to decipher where the roads are and more importantly where the border crossings are. This is probably one of the easier paperwork tasks we have to tackle as most of this information is on the internet
Travel Insurance: This is required for sure. However, luckily I already have this tackled as I’m perpetually traveling and am already insured for the year. My HTH Worldwide plan covers me in any far corner of the world.
International Driver’s License: We will all need our international drivers license for the Rally. Luckily – in America this is easy to obtain. Just stop by your local AAA office and apply with your current state driver’s license – pay money and you are done!
Vehicle Insurance: Now things start to get complicated. In order to drive a car through countries you need to prove that you have car insurance in each country. The EU is pretty simple…for EU residents…which none of us are. So we’ll need to find EU insurance which will cover us through 4 of the countries. Then it gets even more complicated. Once we leave the EU we have to obtain vehicle insurance for each country on the border…from some person who probably wants to tell us that it costs 5 times as much as it really costs and may not even be selling real car insurance. We’ll need to trust our instincts on this and make sure we are covered.
Visas and Passports: The Mongol Rally website describes this process as “Officially the most tedious bits of paperwork besides a tax return”
This is a terrible maze of paperwork and foreign embassies that you can’t even imagine. It’s made more difficult by the fact that as travel bloggers we always are in need of our passports so sending them away for months at a time is not easy. After researching each country’s requirements for Americans and Canadians we determined that Rick and I need 4 visas and Dave and Deb need 5. Sounds easy…right? Not exactly – the countries we need visas are mainly the ‘Stans’ and Russia and some of them require a letter of invitation, some require that we show we 3 months of bank statements notarized, some require nothing to be handwritten, some require us to know our exact dates of entry, and we still may be denied access. All require large sums of money – all well over $100 and all require about a 2 week timeframe to obtain. Four visas for 2 weeks means about 8 weeks minimum on the ground in the US to hopefully get the visa’s sorted out. I’m planning on being in the US for no more than 3 months – so hopefully everything will go smoothly. On top of this – even having a visa certainly doesn’t mean that we still won’t go through huge hassles at the borders of some countries as they attempt to slow us down, and ask for bribes.
Car purchase/title/other shit: Seriously – I can’t even begin to tackle what paperwork will need to be done to purchase an ambulance online and make sure it somehow gets to London for the start. Just thinking about make my head spin like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.