Getting a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a right of passage. It is your gentle introduction into the wonders of Bosnian bureaucracy. You will be confused. You will be frustrated. You will not get any sympathy from your Bosnian friends who have been dealing with this kind of thing all their lives, and view you only as the token foreigner that you are.
But I digress…
Now that you know your place, let’s talk about what a White Card is, when you need to get a White Card, and how to go about getting one. There is a tendency to resort to anecdotes and informal advice when discussing this kind of stuff in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I will try to back up my description of the process with links to the corresponding legal mumbo jumbo when possible and available online. But also keep in mind, I ain’t no lawyer. Just a guy who has done this numerous times and is getting pretty good at it.
What is a White Card?
A White Card is a white piece of card (Shock! Horror!) that lets the Bosnian Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) know where you are staying. It is a way for foreigners to register the address of where they will be residing while in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pretty simple right? Similar reporting procedures exist throughout the region although each country tends to have a different way that allows you to obtain this magical piece of card.
When Do You Need to Get a White Card?
The Simple Explanation
Officially, If you plan on staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more 3 days and will not be staying at a business that provides accommodation services (including hotels and hostels), you are required to obtain a White Card within 48 hours of entering Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Unofficially, if you plan on eventually getting a temporary residence permit at some point during your stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina for whatever reason, you will require a White Card regardless as it is a requirement for the majority of temporary residence permit applications.
The Mumbo Jumbo Explanation
Article 103, clause 3 of the “Laws on Aliens” stipulates the following:
“An Alien who does not use accommodation services… is required to report the stay of the alien in BiH to the competent organizational unit of the Service or the police within 48 hours from the entry of the alien to BiH for any stay of the alien which is longer that three days.”
Note that the law details no specifics about how in practise this law is enforced. But essentially the “report the stay of the alien in BiH” is achieved by obtaining a “White Card”. The “competent organizational unit of the Service” is the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS).
In practise the ability to report your stay to “the police” does not seem possible. Personally I attempted this at the Novo Sarajevo police station, and they responded in a confused manner and told us to report to the Foreigner’s office. It would appear there is no mechanism yet in place to report your stay to the police at the very least in Sarajevo Kanton.
If you stay at official accommodation providers with Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are not required to register your address with the Department of Alien Affairs. This is due to Article 103, clause 1 of the “Laws on Aliens” which stipulates the following:
“Legal and physical entities that provide accommodation services are obliged to report a temporary residence of an alien to competent organizational unit of the Service or police no later than 12 hours after providing accommodation to an alien.”
You can find an English translation of the “Laws on Aliens” from the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina website in which this information was derived from here. There is also informal details about the requirement of the “registration of residence” on the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina website here. Finally, the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs also provides informal information on the “OBLIGATION TO REGISTER TEMPORARY AND PERMANENT RESIDENCE OF AN ALIEN” here, and here. All of this informal advice pretty much says the same thing, but the links are provided here for completeness.
What Happens If You Need a White Card and Do Not Get One?
Article 134, clause 5 of the “Laws on Aliens” stipulates the following:
“Fine in the amount from 100 BAM to 500 BAM shall be imposed on an alien not using the accommodation services of a legal or physical entity nor visiting a physical entity but failing to register his/her stay under Article 103”
In addition to this, you will be unable to apply for temporary residence if you do not obtain a White Card without exiting and entering Bosnia and Herzegovina again. it is generally accepted that the risk of being asked for a White Card when exiting Bosnia and Herzegovina is low. This is most likely a result of problems in implementing the law due to the complexities involved with obtaining a White Card, inconsistencies with accommodation providers registering guest information with the police, and poor data sharing arrangements between government departments in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For a long period of time the borders of Bosnia have been poorly regulated. But times are changing, and more and more people are being punished not obtaining White Cards when they are required to do so. If you plan on staying in Bosnia for a couple of months and wish to return to Bosnia in the future, it is worth investing the time and effort required in obtaining a White Card.
How To Get a White Card
Congratulations! You have made it this far and you are now ready to fulfil your legal obligations as a responsible member of the international community. “Good for you!”, your token Bosnian will say to you sarcastically. But do not react, you will need them for this next bit.
No official information currently exists online about how to obtain a White Card. In fact no official information exists online about the existence of the White Card, which one might argue makes obtaining one pretty difficult. But fret not, there is one document sticky taped to the back of an office door in the Foreigner’s Office located in Sarajevo detailing the requirements for obtaining a White Card. This is not a joke. Below is a photographed version of the document. A google translated version of the document along with original text that I transcribed can be found here.
A short summary of this document outlines the following requirements:
- The personal ID of your landlord (or person who has the deed to the property you are staying in).
- The CIPS document of your landlord or property deed holder.
- A “Guarantee Declaration” by the landlord/deed holder stating it is okay for you to stay at the property OR a lease agreement between you and the landlord/deed holder.
- A photocopy of your identity document (passport) that includes the image page, the page containing the passport validity, visa sticker if you are not a part of the visa free regime in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the page with the stamp from your last entry in to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Receipt from the payment of the “tourist tax”.
Before I go into explaining how to obtain each one of these documents, I should mention that if you cannot bring the originals of the documents to the Foreigner’s Office (which there is a good chance of this happening), you should get “verified copies” of the documents. You can get verified copies of your documents at various Općina offices around Bosnia. I will leave it to you to ask your token Bosnian how to do this.
The Landlords Identification Card
This one is pretty simple. Almost every individual has an identification card in Bosnia, including your landlord. If the landlord will not come with you to the Foreigner’s Office, simply ask them to get a a “verified copy” of there ID card from an Općina office.
The Landlords CIPS Document
If you did not annoy your landlord by asking them for a copy of their ID, you have definitely annoyed them now that you have asked for their CIPS Document. Their eyes have most likely widened, they have repaid your request with a long breathless silence, and they are considering getting a new tenant. Either way, again, if the landlord will not come with you to the Foreigner’s Office, simply ask them to get a a “verified copy” of there CIPS document from an Općina office.
Guarantee Declaration From the Landlord
A guarantee declaration is similar to a statutory declaration. If you do not have a lease agreement or you are staying somewhere as a guest for free, it is best to get one of these declarations. By going to your nearest Općina office, you can get a declaration form and get it “verified”. The declaration form should state your full name, the full name of the landlord, and explain that you may stay in their household for a particular period as a guest.
If you do have a lease agreement, this document will suffice. Again, get a verified copy from a Općina office if you cannot bring it with you to the Foreigner’s Office.
Photocopy of Passport
This one is pretty self explanatory. A photo copy with the identification page, and the page containing the stamp from your last entry into Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is usually best to verify the photocopy of the passport at an Općina office.
Paying the Tourist Tax
The easiest way of paying the tourist tax is by going to a local post office and asking for a payment slip. You can then fill out the payment slip exactly as provided below. I received this information from the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs website after a lot of research, but the details are also available on that infamous piece of paper that is sticky taped to the back of a door in the Foreigner’s Office. The tourist tax is 10KM, but you will pay 11KM at the post office. You will be given back two stamped copies of the payment slip once you make the transaction, of which you will give one copy to the Foreigner’s Office.
Submitting the Documents for the White Card
To submit the documents for the White Card, make a trip to the Foreigner’s Office with your token Bosnian I mentioned a little earlier. Generally speaking, the folks at the Foreigner’s Office will not want to speak English with you, so this is important! In Sarajevo, this is located in the not so convenient location near the airport. You can find the exact location on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs website. Once inside the building it is not so clear what exactly you should do. Find the door with information regarding “Bijeli Karton”, knock, enter, smile, and you should exit with this most sacred of papers.
By now your relationship with your landlord is destroyed, the friendship with your token Bosnian is irrevocably damaged, and you are 11 marks poorer.
Good for you!
- Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina: http://www.msb.gov.ba
- Department Of Foreigner’s Affairs: http://sps.gov.ba
- Department Of Foreigner’s Affairs FAQ: http://sps.gov.ba/najcesca-pitanja/?lang=en
- Department Of Foreigner’s Affairs Information for Aliens: http://sps.gov.ba/boravak-stranaca-u-bih/?lang=en
- Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina Laws on Aliens in English: http://www.msb.gov.ba/PDF/lawonaliens07032016.pdf