Why Bureaucracy Hurts My Brain

When living my life on the road, the decisions I have to make each day are fairly ungoverned and simple. Where do I want to go today? Should I climb that hill / mountain and look at the view? Should I get in this person’s car? How will I find food today? Will I get in trouble if I sleep here tonight? I find these questions exciting. And even when wrong decisions are made, I find new experiences that make up for the bad decisions.

By contrast, living a more conventional life is much more of a struggle – for me.

As I try to make a base in Malta, there are things to be done. We arrived eight days ago (in our van conversion) and spent the best part of a week looking at apartments to rent – literally hundreds of them across various sites – whilst also going to viewings. There were quite stressful questions to be asked and when we finally decided that there was a place that we would be happy living, someone else took it.. then got rejected by the landlord.. then we got it! So now we have a place to live which is great.. except that we can’t move in until the 18th November, so we just wait until that day.

The next few paragraphs are highly tiresome and whiny, and I wouldn’t recommend reading them – go outside, have a walk, watch the sunset, do something FUN – but I am sharing my frustrations, if only for myself. You have been warned..

I’m going to recount my last two days.

1-district-health-office-for-social-security-number-sliema-maltese-residency-01Now that an abode is sorted, legal paperwork must be filed. Over the next few months I will be doing some freelance work overseas (from my computer) as I build my base and plan further steps. So I got up at 06h00 yesterday, headed into the city and eventually found my way to a little hole in the wall labelled, ‘District Health Office’, where I was to get my social security number before going on to get ETC registered, a tax number, a VAT number, and a trading license – with all these in hand I could apply for residency, and I hoped to do most of it in a day.. silly thinking! To get my social security number I had to apply online and wait a week. I asked the friendly men in the office very politely, many times, if there was some other way to get it quicker. Eventually they relented and said that I could get it done in a day, so could I please come back tomorrow.

2-jobsplus-for-etc-registration-valletta-maltese-residency-04This morning I get up at seven (they told me not to be early), head back to the little office, and get given my magic piece of paper that allows me to pay social security. I am then directed to the ETC office. I wanted to take the ferry across the bay, but it was cancelled due to a large swell.

I get there after an hour, stand in line for a long wait, then find out I can’t get ETC registered until I have a VAT number. Forty-five minutes later I am in the VAT office. Oh no, I can’t possibly get VAT registered until I get a tax number.. and they close in ten minutes.. until 13h30 Monday afternoon.

3-vat-department-for-vat-number-birkikara-maltese-residency-07At the bus stop, four buses fail to stop, waving apologies because they are too full. I start walking the couple of miles to speed things up and intercept an almost full bus along the way. An hour later, I am in the tax office. In place of human interaction, a sign proclaims that all foreign nationals must fill out a form, post it in the box, and wait eight days for a tax number. I have five things to apply for before I can get my residence permit and if I wait eight days for each, I have to wait forty days, plus my original week of house hunting, plus another week or two for the residence card (about fifty-five days in total), before I can apply for my American to live here with me. And they may take another four weeks. Living in a house whilst not being able to work for two and a half months is an absurd financial push – living on the road for two and a half months could be paid for by writing a handful of articles by utilising free-camping, free transport, and budget eating. [Read travel without money if this is of interest to you. Or take a look at this financial breakdown of how we travelled across Europe on €2.36 whilst eating pizza and drinking beer if you want to sew how living on the road can be cheap.]

4-inland-revanue-department-for-tax-number-floriana-maltese-residency-09No-one is around in the tax office, so I catch a girl walking past in a corridor – please, I really need my tax number today. At length, she relents – I can get it on Monday if I call a number she scribbles onto a post it, along with a name. Thank you. And now I wait. Again. I have one of the five numbers I need, before getting the document that I need to get another document that Leah needs.. it is all rather tedious. Were these days wasted? No – we ran along the sea front, I tried to teach Leah to play squash (despite not knowing how to myself), and I explored parts of Malta I never even thought of visiting (trying to find the many offices I have to visit across this small island). But there were many frustrating moments.

I am enjoying Malta – the people seem lovely, the days have been warm, and it is another new place to explore – but I am struggling with the paperwork. In the eight days we have been here, my brother and I could have walked nearly four hundred kilometres across Iceland.. Leah and I could have cycled through four countries.. We could have rafted a hundred kilometres on a pirate ship.. There is so much one could do in eight days.

I understand why all these systems are in place – the world would be madness if everyone lived as I have done over the past few years, and I am grateful for the people who keep human civilisation ticking over. Who would drive the buses and run the hospitals? Who would build the roads and make the internet work? No-one! Yet the problem with all this paperwork is that once you get away from it all, you don’t want it in your life. I don’t want to figure out what the best phone contract is, I don’t want to search hundreds of listings for a place to live, I don’t want to have to catch the right bus at the right time to get to the wrong place. I simply want to be. I like things in life to be less stressful and for each decision to bring something new and exciting into life. I want it all and I want it now and I don’t want hassle because I have been spoilt by my lifestyle. All of my problems from the past couple of days are not real problems (except for the issue that I am still unable to legally live in the same country as my girlfriend, anywhere on this planet), but they matter to me, in this moment, because they are my reality.

Yet I see light at the end of the tunnel. Our base will soon be formed. Tomorrow we compete in a squash tournament. We have ideas for the future. And a few months from now, I hope to see my life taking shape in a way that I want to live it – and it is something worth working for (as with everything in life).. But oh my, the paperwork drives me crazy.

Anyone else feel this?

You might also like to read: The Pieces of Paper That Define Where We Can Live and Who We Can Love

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