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How to Get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina

So you want to get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Well, as you are going to find out Bosnia and Herzegovina does not particularly care for that.

The process of obtaining a “Volunteer Visa” can be pretty daunting but it is more well defined than some of the other bureaucratic wonders of this beautiful country. With a bit of forethought and planning some of the pain can be averted. But still, there will be pain. There will be pain for you, the organisation that you will volunteer for, and anyone who has the audacity to help you on this journey. Previously I went in to quite a lot of detail with How to Get a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however due to the complicated nature of obtaining visa’s in Bosnia, I will try to keep this post more concise.

So let’s talk a bit the background on the Volunteer Visa and how you can go about getting one.

What is a Volunteer Visa?

A Volunteer Visa, or the much less sexy sounding “Temporary Residence Grounded On Volunteering” is a residence permit that allows an individual to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina for no more than one year on the basis of volunteering for a registered agency, institution, humanitarian organisation, association or foundation.

The permit may be extended if required, and allows the participant to receive “costs of subsistence, accommodation, health insurance and return [to country of origin]”. It does not give an individual working rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When Do You Need to Get a Volunteer Visa?

If you are volunteering in any organisation within Bosnia and Herzegovina for any period of time, you will require a Volunteer Visa. Visa-free entries (sometimes referred to as Tourist Visas) do not allow individuals to volunteer.

What Happens If You Need a Volunteer Visa and Do Not Get One?

As per Article 105 on Law on Aliens, you leave yourself open to deportation, fines, and a lengthy entry ban from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Generally speaking the risk of being caught for volunteering in Bosnia and Herzegovina without a Volunteer Visa is considered low provided you are legally allowed to be in the country. But times are changing. If you plan on volunteering in Bosnia and wish to return to Bosnia in the future, it is worth getting a Volunteer Visa.

How To Get a Volunteer Visa

Take a deep breath. We are going to dive head first into this. If you have successfully avoided having a panic attack after reading through this once over, read it again. This is doable.

First thing is first. Get the required documents. The full list of required documents for a Volunteer Visa application are listed in a document called “PB-2.5”. It can be found via the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website in English here and in BHS here.

Much of the steps I outline will be based off this document, however I will also include my own insights having successfully applied for the Volunteer Visa in the past.

Before I go into explaining what the required documents for the visa are and how to get them, I should mention that you will be required to get “verified copies” of many 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 as any attempt to explain it here will probably leave you scratching your head. Ask the organisation you will be volunteering for to assist you with the verification of your documents.

The Requirements

There are several things that should be stressed upon before going through the entire list of requirements.

  • First, get a police check from your country of origin. You will need to get it translated to BHS once in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this can take time.
  • Second, tell the organisation that you will be volunteering for that you will need their cooperation. They will be required to provide a number of documents that may not be necessarily be easy to acquire, and will need to provide you with a volunteering contract that fulfils a number of requirements. If you do not have a token Bosnian friend who can spare some time to help you, make sure the organisation can provide someone to come to the Foreigner’s Office with you at the end to submit the application.
  • Third, do not wait. if possible start collecting documents before you arrive in Bosnia. The process of obtaining all the documents is probably going to take you at least a week once you enter Bosnia if you have the full cooperation of the organisation you are volunteering for. For me, the process took two full weeks the first time I completed it just to submit the application.
  • Fourth, All documents must be either in BHS, or translated to BHS. Translations cost money and take time, so do as much as you can in BHS. Below I have some comments on how to make this possible.
  • Finally, GET A WHITE CARD. Do it within 48 hours of entering Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you did not get one, leave Bosnia and return immediately so you can get one within the confines of the law on aliens.

A short summary of all the requirements from the PB-2.5 document are as follows:

  1. Application Form: A filled out “REQUEST FOR APPROVAL/ RENEWAL OF TEMPORARY RESIDENT PERMIT” application Form. This can be found on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website here.
  2. Administrative Payment Receipt: Receipt from 150KM administrative fee for processing temporary residence applications. This can be done using a payslip at any post office and account information found on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website here. An example payslip that I completed for my volunteer visa application without identifying information can be found below.
  3. Recent Photo: A 35x45mm photo. This can be taken anywhere, but a passport compliant photo print would be wise. I often go to Foto Žunić at BBI centar in Sarajevo to get this done.
  4. Passport Copy: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of your 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.
  5. White Card Copy: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of the White Card I told you to get earlier. Detailed steps on this painful process are outlined here.
  6. Previous Temporary Residence Stickers: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of previous temporary residence stickers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you have never gained temporary residence in Bosnia before, this step is not required.
  7. Volunteering Contract: A volunteering contract from the organisation that you will be volunteering for. This should contain a specific article which I will comment on in a moment. A copy should be provided in BHS and a language you understand. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  8. Certificate From Organiser: A Certificate from “the organiser” detailing the volunteers name, position, and description of the jobs and tasks that will be performed on the relevant project. It must also include information on how the volunteers work will be conducted, organised, supervised, relevant working times, and the time frame for the entire project. This should be an official document with the organisation’s magic stamp and letterhead. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  9. Document From Organiser: A document from “the organiser” detailing information on the project as a whole. This should be an official document with the organisation’s magic stamp and letterhead. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  10. Organiser Project License: If “the organiser” is a “humanitarian organisation”, a verified copy is required of the license for the realisation of the project issued by the competent authority in BiH. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  11. Organiser Registration Document: Verified copy of the registration document from the organisation. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  12. Organiser Solvency Document: Evidence of solvency of the organisation. This can usually be provided by the organisation’s bank. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  13. Volunteer Insurance Policy: Insurance policy that has been taken out to cover “consequences of accident for alien” for their duration of the volunteering period. I personally obtained this insurance in less than 30 minutes by walking in to Vienna Osiguranje in Sarajevo with my organiser and explaining what the insurance was for. The cost was around 35KM for a 6 month period. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  14. Volunteer Costs Evidence: Evidence that “the organisation” will be responsible for the volunteers costs during the volunteering period. This includes costs for “subsistence, accommodation, food, medical treatment, health insurance and return, as well as costs of placing under surveillance, voluntarily leaving and forcible removal, and other costs which may incur during the stay of alien in BiH”. In my experience this requirement can be satisfied by the inclusion of an article in the volunteering contract. Below is an example article that proved satisfactory for my application.
  15. Consent of Engagement: If you are volunteering for a church or religious community, you are required to provide a “consent of engagement”. I have no experience with this and will not provide advice. If you are not volunteering for a church or religious community, forget about this requirement.
  16. Evidence of Means For Subsistence: The easiest way to provide this is to print out a bank statement that shows you have a minimum of 400KM per month for the volunteering period. The bank statement does not need to be official, and can even be a screenshot of your online bank account in my experience.
  17. Medical Attestation: It is best to do this in Bosnia as it will be in BHS, cheap, and quick. The easiest way to do this is to go to Poliklinika SaNaSa in Sarajevo and say “I need a health check and insurance for a visa application”. The insurance is required for the next requirement. They will immediately take your blood and urine, give you a rudimentary examination and tell you to return the next day. You will be out the door in 45 minutes flat. When you return, they will give you examination results, blood work, and urine analysis that will satisfy this criteria. They test for HIV, HEP C, and some other things involving blood cell count. They do not test for any kind of drugs. The health check and insurance will cost around 100KM.
  18. Evidence on Secured Health Insurance in BiH: The insurance available at Poliklinika SaNaSa satisfies this criteria.
  19. Police Check: From your country of origin. It must prove that that no criminal proceedings and penalty for criminal acts have been imposed against you and be no more than 6 months old. It must be translated to BHS. The translation must be done by a certified translator. I can highly recommend Sudski tumac Sarajevo. They are fast, prompt, and affordable.
  20. Evidence on secured accommodation in BiH: A lease agreement, or verified statutory declaration from a property deed holder will satisfy this criteria. I have also found it worthwhile to also get verified copies of the landlords/deed holders ID card and CIPS document for this step. This is required when obtaining a White Card regardless, so just make sure to get extra copies.

Submitting the Documents for the Volunteer Visa

To submit the documents for the Volunteer Visa, make a trip to the Foreigner’s Office with someone who speaks BHS and can represent you. 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 a door and open it, ask for the person responsible for temporary residence on the basis of volunteering. They will probably will send you to a colleague in the neighbouring room, who will then return you to the original worker, who will then send you to a third room that will contain the correct worker. Save your panic attack for later. This is normal. Smile. Be confident. Avoid direct eye contact, they do not like that. You will do fine.

Conclusion

At this point, the workers at the Foreigner’s Office have probably sent you away with your application for having a minor error in one or more of the various documents. You return later that day with the correction and a strong suspicion of collusion between Department of Foreigner’s Affairs and Sarajevo Taxi due to your increasing spend on trips to and from the office. They accept your application. They tell you they will contact you when they are done processing the application. You never hear from them again.

As the great guide reminds us, DON’T PANIC.

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How to Get a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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?

An example of a blank 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 Foreigner’s 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 for 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.


Document outlining White Card requirements

The Requirements

A short summary of this document outlines the following requirements:

  1. The personal ID of your landlord (or person who has the deed to the property you are staying in).
  2. The CIPS document of your landlord or property deed holder.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


An example payslip to pay the “tourist tax”

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.

Conclusion

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!

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