Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Idiot Tax

I know that the primary readers of this blog are my parents, so I've been waiting to talk about this one for a while as to not invite clicking of the tongue behind the teeth, shaking of the heads, or general thoughts of "if only I had been there to warn him to check his pockets..."

So... I washed my passport.

When I got back to Korea after my trip to Canada this past August, I had my passport alone in my shorts' side pocket. Said sweaty shorts went directly into the washing machine.

About a week later, on my way to Korean class, I put my hand in my pocket to feel something kind of damp, kind of folded, and rather thick. This couldn't be a wad of cash. I pulled out my passport and unfolded it to find that is was not doing so well. It was a crowded train and therefore hard to avoid anyone else seeing it. One guy in particular could barely hide a chuckle when he saw the recognition on my face.

Anyway, I write about it today because I think it's worth other Seoul expats knowing the process one goes through upon discovery of a clean and moist passport. I'll even write the following words below to aid in a google search from a poor soul who might some day suffer the same fate:

"damaged passport Seoul"


"I washed left my effing passport in my effing shorts and threw them in the effing laundry."

Here's what I did...

1) Phoned the Canadian Embassy in Seoul to ask their advice. Do this to save yourself some hassle, and have a pen and paper ready.

2) Visited the Passport Canada homepage to download the instructions and the application form for a new passport.

3) Completed the application form (This may be a pain in the ass as it requires you to know previous addresses in Korea, as well as previous employment in Korea along with employment contact information.

4) Got new passport photos taken. I went to Itaewon just because I was in the area and figured that there would be a few places specializing in international passport photos there. I went to a place called Kukjeon Studio out of exit 4. They, like back home, charge roughly $20 for 4 passport photos. Just tell them you're Canadian and they'll know the correct size. Your application instructions will give you the proper dimensions you need, so have it on-hand just in-case.

5) Got a guarantor to sign my application and one photo. The application instructions stipulate that a guarantor can be any dentist, lawyer, doctor, or mayor that has known you personally for at least 2 years. Being that such a reality for most expats is unlikely, another option that the passport office suggested to me is to ask a Bank's Signing Officer (the manager in most cases) to sign for you as a guarantor. Even if he (I would say "he or she", but come on - this is Korea) doesn't know you, you can ask the person who you deal with when sending money home if he or she can ask the manager to sign. Apparently, the front-line person vouching for you is enough. I watched my bank-teller lady cautiously approach the elderly man behind a high dark desk and he seemed to reluctantly sign what he needed to sign. He then chastised her for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December before reminding her to tighten her waist coast. (Technically speaking, the people at this bank have only known me since March of 2009, but I have had an active account with that particular bank at another branch since August of 2007, so they were willing to vouch for me.)

6) Made an appointment with the Canadian Embassy for this afternoon and made my way down there.

7) Got a flat front tire on my bike on the way down, so had to re-route and take the subway. Good thing I left early.

8) Had a brief and fairly pleasant encounter with the government official there who took my questions and had me fill-in some parts of the form which were unclear. She also called my guarantor right then and there to verify that the guy knew me. *(When my bank manager signed my application, I provided him with a photo of me and a brief information sheet on where I lived, how old I was, hair colour, how tall etc. They might ask this kind of information of your guarantor, so aiding a reluctant bank manager in this process by providing a little info cheat-sheet is a good idea).

9) Had to pay the cost of a new passport ($100) as well as the cost of declaring a damaged passport ($50). This, I refer to as the aforementioned "Idiot Tax". I assume that Passport Canada just wants to punish people who leave their passport in their shorts. There can't be any substantial paperwork required to deal with a damaged passport. I'm essentially getting a passport about a year and a half earlier than I would have needed to, since mine was set to expire in March of 2012. I know I'm an idiot because when my Vice Principal asked why I needed to leave school early today, she heard my story of the passport in the shorts and offered this witty retort: "That was... (struggling to find the right word) ...stupid."

10) Got a phone-call from the Embassy about 30 minutes after I left informing me that the little blue birth certificate that I have had since shortly after I came into this world (February 2nd 1976, to be exact) was "double-laminated" and therefore invalid. Strange, seeing how it was perfectly valid in March of 2007 when I had my passport made back in Canada. But my, how the times have changed. This mysterious "double-lamination", the officer informed me, has rendered my birth certificate useless as it is now categorized as "mutilated"... effing MUTILATED! I informed the officer that in laminating a certificate that was old and coming apart, "mutilation" was in fact the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. Nevertheless... mutilation was the result. Also, I have to fax-in an application form as well as pay the Alberta Government online an additional $50 for a new birth certificate to be faxed to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul before my passport can be processed.

All-in-all, my laundered passport cost me:

a) $100 (Can) processing fee
b) $50 Idiot Tax
c) $50 new Birth Certificate
d) $20 passport photos
e) Stress and time filling-out applications and getting my shite together
f) A flat tire
* Reminder: you will also need to a make a photocopy of every passport page. Things like a multiple-entry VISA can be replaced free of charge as long as you have the copy of your passport to prove that you bought one in the first place.

I realize that I would have had to pay the $100 fee in a year and a half anyway, and I apparently needed a new birth certificate, but it's kinda like bringing your car in for a dented fender and having someone point-out that your reluctance to change the oil regularly means that you're now going to have to mortgage your home to pay for the collateral damage to the engine.

I'm also sad that I won't be able to hold onto my passport which was a record of my first bout of international travel. I'd been to the States before, but I was collecting some pretty cool records of places visited the last few years - even if they were a bit blurry from the detergent. I asked the officer at the embassy if there was anyway to just use this passport until it expired, since it was still able to be scanned. How cool would it be to throw down that gnarly looking passport at a customs officer to prove what a bad-ass all-weather adventurer I am? She told me that at best, I would get a warning and encouragement to get a new passport. At worst, I would be detained at some country's border and not allowed to enter, resulting in an early flight home and no vacation. Awesome.

Anyway. Check your shorts.


thwany said...

damn, that sucks.

Douglas said...

Interesting story!

Though 20 bucks for passport photos? That's like, 5 1/2 Big Mac meals from 11am-2:30 PM.

Next time try the passport photo booths at many of Seoul's busy subway stations. 7,000 Won or so for a set.