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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Two countries, two passport offices: Israeli bureaucracy in 2018

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Let's play a game: see if you can guess which country is which!  Two countries, two passport offices.  One of these experiences took place in Canada; the other in Israel.  Let’s let them go head to head.

PASSPORT EXPERIENCE #1:

Walk into passport office, get in line.  Wait in line an hour, reach wicket.  Lady inspects documents: birth certificate, passport application, passport photos, signatures, guarantor form and signatures, old passport, miscellaneous other ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's your number.  You can go get in line in the other room."  Half an hour in line in the real passport room waiting for the number to be called, go up, hand in documents, pay fee, leave.  In and out in under two hours!

PASSPORT EXPERIENCE #2:

Walk into passport office five minutes early for appointment made online.  Enter info into computer at entrance, receive a number.  Sit down for 2 minutes until number is called.  Go up to wicket, hand over old passport and ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's the price."  Tell her I already paid online.  "Oh, right, no problem.  Here's your receipt."  In and out in under ten minutes!

Now... in which country did I have which experience?

You probably already guessed, but I'll tell you anyway.  Experience #2 was my Israeli passport renewal last week.  Experience #1 was a Canadian passport renewal for our son last summer.  And that was IN Toronto... the process can be even more of a hassle (and more expensive) if you're doing it through the Canadian consulate here in Israel.

Looking around in line at the Canadian passport office, I couldn't help but notice the large amount of documentation everyone was carrying around with them.  Immigration documentation, I figured--one person had actually brought their citizenship certificate (or whatever it is that Canada gives people when they immigrate) in its frame, tucked into a plastic bag.  And everybody in line, including us, was fingering their paperwork nervously, knowing people who had been turned away because they had brought the wrong documentation, or not enough documentation.

That doesn't happen in Today's Israel.

Once upon a time, bureaucracy was a nightmare in this country, and it still can be, but what we have discovered is that for simple, everyday things, it really isn't.

Not long ago, I conducted a series of interviews with former Canadians living in Israel, and all the olim who'd been here more than 20 years commented: the bureaucracy is easier, the infrastructure is better, the day-to-day interaction with the government is clearer and more sane.

In some cases, more sane than the countries we've made aliyah from.

One difference is that in Israel, first of all, everything is in the computer.  You walk up to that passport counter, hand over your teudat zehut (identity card), and they pull up your entire record.  The teudat zehut has a photo, so they can check if it’s you, and they’re also moving to a biometric teudat zehut, so they’ll be harder to forge, but I really don’t think there’s a lot of forgery as it is.

For the most part, there’s the sense that that one piece of ID will do you just about everywhere you go in the country.  Sure, for renting a car they want to see your driver’s license, but otherwise, I don’t think I’ve been asked for any other type of ID.

In the passport office, once you’ve identified yourself, and handed over your old passport, it’s just a few keystrokes to punch in your request—so there’s no form to fill out.   They handle a very limited range of requests there – though they do more than the Canadian passport office, which is for passports only.  The Israeli office also handles teudot zehut (identity cards) and other matters related to the population registry

(It’s not technically called “the passport office,” but the לשכת האוכלוסין / lishkat ha-uchlusin, the population bureau, a department of Misrad Hapnim, the Ministry of the Interior).

Think about it.  What do you need to put on a form, anyway?  Your name and date of birth probably haven’t changed; if your address has changed, it’s your job to tell them or your new passport can’t be delivered properly.  I don’t remember everything we had to fill out on our son’s passport renewal form, but I’m sure it was information we provided the last 3 times we did his passport.  Why?

Notice another thing I didn’t have to hand over at the Israeli passport office, by the way: passport photos.  I always thought the system of making you bring in photos was weird, but maybe it makes sense if it’s for a child who isn’t with you at the time.  Every time I’ve ever gotten a driver’s license, they have cameras, but I never wondered why passport offices didn’t do the same thing. 

Anyway, I had photos taken, but apparently the requirements have changed and for the new biometric passports, they take their own pictures.  Drat.

The other nifty thing about getting your passport done in Israel is that you can pay online—and it’s cheaper in the winter.  Winter pricing is in effect from October to February, to encourage people to avoid getting passports during the rush season.  Even in the summer, it’s cheaper to pay online, but in the winter, it’s double cheap.  I guess they know Jews cannot resist a bargain. 

(When you pay online, they direct you to the site to make an appointment to go in person; if you paid the winter rate, you have until the end of March to actually show up at the office.  If you don’t have an appointment, and need a passport urgently, you can show up at your local passport office, but I recommend a) finding out from friends where the wait times are lower, and b) showing up very early in the day!)

If you pay online, it’s also a good idea to bring along your receipt, either printed or saved to your phone.  I brought mine along, not entirely trusting the bureaucracy.  In the end, I didn’t need it, but it’s probably healthy not to entirely trust the system. 

It is Israel, after all…


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson/Released

6 comments:

  1. Wonderful! One thing I've noticed over the years is that there's a shorter line here in Israel if you come an hour before closing.
    In general, the Israeli Identity number given at birth makes all sorts of things easier and more efficient. Certainly superior to the American system.

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    1. It really does. In Canada we also have an identity number (like a SSN in the US) and you certainly have to fill it in on all the documentation, but it sure seems most of the time like nobody really looks at it... :-)

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  2. I've made appointments twice at Misrad Hapnim, and was in and out both times in about 10 minutes. It's amazing what we Israelis can do when we put our minds to it.

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    1. It truly is, isn't it!
      What I didn't mention in this blog post is that this was my THIRD attempt to get my passport. Take 1 was my fault, I forgot the stupid appointment. But Take 2, I swear, the online system gave me an appointment, but when I showed up, it never existed. I realized afterwards that I'd never gotten the confirmation text message, so I guess there was a problem I should have picked up on, but seriously... I was quite angry and frustrated. But then Take 3, a week later, was so very pleasant that it cancelled out the other attempts.

      (That was the reason alluded to above that I didn't get the winter rate--I paid in the winter, my Take 1 appointment was during the winter period, but by the time Take 3 rolled around, it was already summer...) :-)

      Thanks for stopping by... and good Knight!

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  3. At the Shufersol in Haifa they have you use your TZ to procure a grocery cart! Of course as a non-resident that presented a bit of a problem but the security guard was able to override it so I could use one. I gather that everyone must faithfully return their carts knowing that the government would know how to find them! Glad to hear the bureaucracy is improved; it’s infamous!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I've never heard of this and would actually have been grateful when I went to Osher Ad (a big supermarket) right before Pesach and discovered I'd come without a 5-shekel coin to release a shopping cart. In Canada, they'd give you a quarter at customer service if you promised to give it back but nope, I even offered to leave my TZ with the customer service people but they just said no and pointed at the usurious bank machine. :-(

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