Rage Against The Upravna Enota: Slovenia’s Shitshow Bureaucracy

I love Slovenia. But I hate the Upravna Enota.

The Upravna Enota (which translates as ‘administrative unit’) is the body that every Slovenian and expat has to battle with when trying to do any administrative task; registering births, deaths, marriages, getting driving licences, residency permits etc, etc.

Ever since I had my first taste of red tape four years ago (see Battling Bureaucracy: A taste of red tape in Slovenia) I have come to despise every interaction with Slovenia’s administrative system. I would debate that the word ‘system’ can truly be applied to the Upravna Enota, seeing as it seems to lack any approach that could be described as ‘systematic’.

An Embarrassment to Slovenia

I am a strong advocate of Slovenia. I think it’s a highly underappreciated and underrated country. I chose to come and live here. I love life here, and I frequently write about what a wonderful place it is (see best things about life in Slovenia). But the Upravna Enota is one element of life in Slovenia that seriously brings it down in the ratings.

After four years of having to deal with it, I can confirm that the Upravna Enota is an utterly inefficient, incompetent, inept and completely inconsistent mess. In an otherwise excellent country, the Upravna Enota is an embarrassment to Slovenia.

Bureaucracy is in the eye of the beholder

How you perceive Slovenia’s administrative system will depend on what other countries’ bureaucracy you have experienced. I have lived in 6 countries, and had to deal with everyday administration in three of them (UK, Japan, Slovenia).

I know Mexican or Italian expats living here have said how smooth the bureaucracy is in Slovenia compared to their home countries. So Slovenia is by no means at the bottom of the pile; there are even worse systems out there.

But for someone used to the UK way of admin where the vast majority of tasks can be done quickly and easily online yourself, Slovenia’s system is stone age.

There are hundreds of examples of how inefficient the UE is. It’s somewhat of a hobby in Slovenia for people to share experiences of how ridiculously inept the UE is: months of delays, lost applications, zero communication. The only silver lining is the healthy number of amusing stories over which to bond with other victims.

Why is the Upravna Enota so bad?

The problem with the Upravna Enota is not with the frontline staff. They too are victims of the system and are simply carrying out orders. The cause sits higher up. Somebody, somewhere in the Slovenian government is responsible for how things run at the UE; where budgets are spent, how procedures are run. But for some inexplicable reason, they have decided against modernising the UE and ensuring staff are properly informed how to give consistent service.

Because right now – the UE is a mess. Every time I have to go, I know that the chance of getting my task done depends not only upon which UE I go to (the Ljubljana UE is notorious for being the worst in the country) but also which individual UE officer I happen to get on the day, and what mood they are in.

When trying to exchange my UK driving licence for a Slovenian one, something I was not only entitled to do legally, but was told by the British Embassy it was something I must do (due to Brexit) the lady at the Ljubljana UE told me that I couldn’t swap it and that what I had been told was ‘bullshit’. (Yes – she actually said ‘bullshit’.).

I later went to another UE in a different part of the country with a friendly expat who knew the staff there, and we completed the process without issue.

It’s this massive inconsistency that causes huge frustration. You get a different answer from every different person you deal with. So expats have vastly different experiences based on the luck of the draw. This is not how a country should run its admin, especially when the people living there depend upon it to be able to carry out tasks which we are legally obliged to do.

Round the Houses

When I went to get my new residency permit last year, I was sent round the houses, back and forth to different departments because no one seemed to have heard of Brexit, and no one seemed to know that the UE were supposed to issue us with new biometric cards.

Instead, they were asking for all sorts of documents and procedures that were not needed. After some hours of back and forth and waiting around, it was only when I showed them what was clearly laid out on the page of their own government’s website that they conceded and we finally got the process going. Clearly, a lot of UE staff just never ‘get the memo’.

On a side note: Slovenia loves rubber stamps. If there’s a piece of paper that can be rubber stamped, then God damn it, rubber stamp it they will. In almost every situation of having to provide documents for inspection, if they are not rubber stamped, they will not be accepted as official.

I find it quite hilarious that in Slovenia, the rubber stamp is regarded as some sort of certificate of absolute authenticity. As if it would be impossible and unthinkable to counterfeit a rubber stamp (that can be bought for a few euros off the internet).

Not a Nation of Luddites

I don’t want to paint Slovenia as a country of Luddites because in fact it’s quite the opposite. In many aspects, life in Slovenia is on par, in terms of modern efficiencies, as anywhere in western Europe. I have before delighted in things like the Bicikelj bike system, (now all accessible via an app) or the bus system where you just blip your contactless bus pass. Slovenia has quite a good startup scene, being advanced in blockchain technology and there are plenty of very successful Slovenian companies.

But the Upravna Enota is horribly behind.

I could give many more examples of UE ineptitude but I’ll finish up with my most recent one.

Every year, you must do a ‘technical check’ on your car. This year, I took my car to AMZS, had the car checked, (it passed), and went to renew my car registration and insurance for another year.

The AMZS clerk tapped away on her computer.

“Mmmmm – your address is not valid.”

“What do you mean not valid? I have been living here for 4 years, here’s my valid residency permit, which states I am a legal resident until 2026.”

“Yes, but your address is not in the system. You must go the Upravna Enota and confirm your address with them.”

I immediately bristled. Any mention of the UE fills me with horror. It’s the source of all pain for expats (and probably a lot of Slovenes too).

In this latest case of ineptitude, the Upravna Enota had made a mistake. There was a glitch in their system somewhere, because less than one year ago, I confirmed all my address documents with them when I was issued with my new biometric resident permit card.

Obviously, somewhere in their archaic system, this had not been recorded properly. So now, when it came to renewing my car registration, AMZS are unable to do it.

Ok – no big deal – I thought. I’ll just phone the Upravna Enota, explain the problem and they’ll be able to fix it.

Nope. You can do nothing over the phone. Nor online. You must physically go to the UE and speak to someone.

OK, so I’ll just pop into the UE and explain the problem and they’ll be able to fix their mistake.

Nope. Right now, you cannot just turn up at the UE. You must book an appointment.

Ok – so I’ll jump online and book a slot.

Nope. No such ‘advanced technology’ as online booking forms (invented circa 1998) exists, you must phone up to book an appointment.

Ok, so I’ll ask my Slovenian friend to phone to ensure there’s no linguistical misunderstandings, (thanks Vanja!) and explain the situation.

Vanja phones. The first available appointment is four and a half weeks from now. W. T. F.

Let’s recap:

  • The Upravna Enota fucked up.
  • Their fuck up means I am now unable to legally register (and therefore drive) my car.
  • I cannot fix the problem online.
  • I cannot fix the problem over the phone.
  • And the first possible chance to fix the problem in person, is four and a half weeks away.

But it gets worse.

Whilst racking my brains for other solutions, a ray of hope appears. Vanja sends me a link to a Slovenian news article saying that from today – appointments at the UE are no longer required. I can’t believe my good fortune! I tell work that I need to take a half day off, and head immediately to Ljubljana’s UE.

When I get there I’m tense. I’ve experienced so many problems at the UE; things rarely go smoothly.

And my instinct turns out to be correct.

The security guard bars my entry, saying that I require an appointment. I show him the article in Slovene that says ‘From today NO appointments needed’. At first he resists, but I press him, and he kindly goes off to ask inside. He returns, saying that I still need an appointment.

“So, why has the Slovenian ministry just announced publicly that you don’t need an appointment from today?”

He says it isn’t ‘official’ yet.

The security guard himself was friendly and helpful. But this is just another example of the awfully inconsistent and inept UE system. Their own ministry publicly announces you don’t need an appointment, but when you get there, you’re told the opposite.

A Tale of Two Systems

I moved to Slovenia because I love the country. I prefer it to life in the UK. But the UE just seems so behind from what it could be. To give you a contrasting experience; I used to take the UK’s admin system for granted. The following example illustrates how good it is, and how bad the Slovenian system is.

Last year my UK passport expired. I was able to apply for, pay, and receive a brand-new passport, entirely online. The excellent Gov.co.uk website even enabled me to upload the selfie I’d taken with my phone (no need for physical photos – this is 2021) and automatically check it was ok, before submitting my application. (It turned out the picture was too dark, so I had to retake it). Within three weeks of submitting my application, my brand new passport was in my hands.

Contrast that to the Slovenian shitshow of a system. They make an administrative error and it takes four and a half weeks to even speak to someone who is in any position to fix the error they made.

The most frustrating element is that we’re not talking space-travel technology here. We’re talking about simple online systems which have been available for years. The fact that you can’t even book an appointment online highlights how behind the UE are.

There is off-the-shelf booking software that can be installed on a website in minutes, and costs peanuts. This is software that plenty of Slovenian businesses are using – for example dentists, AMZS, or restaurants. So why in 2022 is the government still relying on archaic systems, for simple things that could and should be done online.

Inefficient and Inept

This inefficient and inept system has direct impact on both the people and the country. It’s a massive time waster for those who need to get something done, as well as for the UE staff (who often appear fairly miserable and probably dislike repetitive, administrative work – much of which could easily be automated or at least self-served, allowing them to focus their time on more interesting and constructive things).

It’s also a burden on the economy. I had to take half a day off from work to sort out the mess that the UE had caused (which is still not sorted out). That’s half a day I don’t get paid. And half a day’s worth of tax money that the Slovenian government won’t get to spend.

I estimate I have been forced to spend between 5-10 days over the last 4 years messing around at the UE. Most of those tasks could easily have been performed by myself online, if they implemented a modern system.

Slovenia, I love you. But you seriously need to sort this shit out.

Update: A Positive Footnote

I managed to solve this latest UE-induced problem in less than the 4.5 weeks originally quoted. But that was despite the UE, not because of it. It was only due to the kindness of not only my Slovene friends (shout out to Vanja, Kristof and Satya in particular!) but also the kindness of strangers.

A random Slovene who happened to be campaigning for a new political party (Zdrava Družba) outside the UE took up my cause and ‘petitioned’ the UE security guards – who were also perfectly nice and friendly – to let me in. Which after about 45 minutes of waiting, they did.

And despite the chaos inside (the ticketing system was broken so no one knew who was next) I lucked out and got a very friendly officer, who was delighted to have a chance to speak English with me (even though she said they are not supposed to – and she got told off by a colleague for doing so!).

Thus the story ends like this; the UE is still terrible. It is in need of a major re-boot. But the individual Slovenes themselves are amazing, kind and helpful people.

Don’t hate the players, hate the game.

Have you ever had a problem with Slovenia’s UE? Share it in the comments below.

7 comments

  1. Bravo. I’m in Prekmurje, my local UE is Lendava, (yep, here’s my story – albeit short and happier) and I had the exact same problem with my car registration/ address / UE “system”, except I was able to be seen in 3 days cos I think I’m the only Brit here. I sometimes find myself slapping my wrist and not to be so mean etc, but, nah – f*** that, they are terrible on the whole and the MOST frustrating thing about it is they really don’t have to be. So much could be sorted right away with some tech upgrades and a damn standardised coherent training programme. In a past life I worked for the DWP as a Site Coach helping customer service agents on benefit helplines get their heads round the mandatory script and I used to think there was no other job worse, given as it was to outdated systems and stalwarts resistant to change. But at least they tried to change. Now I realise the poor sods at the UE have got it far worse.
    Keep your chin up, and continue to rage against the dying of the light. Give it another 30 years 🙂

  2. I did indeed! Various comments on the Facebook TSN page were somewhat fatalistic, understandable of course, but ultimately self-fulfilling. I pointed out that articles like this, whilst of no news to anyone, still need to be published, if anything to shame those in charge into action. I may be absurdly naïve, but I do still harbour hope that things will change, simply because they can. There has to be a point, surely, where even the cogs are tired of the machine. Let’s see…

  3. In winter, I was learning to drive, and because you had to wait 1-2 months for the ‘major/final drive’ with a commision, I decided to get a permit to drive with my father or my mum. So I made an appointment at UE Škofja Loka (where I go to school to), and got an appointment fairly quickly (in 3 days). I got there, but then they said I had to do this at the UE, which covers area, where I live (near Medvode). In Škofja Loka, they told me, I could do this in Medvode (local office), so I naturally went there immediately. When I got there, they told me, that because they are just a local office, they cannot do this, and I had to UE Ljubljana (and I thought to myself immediately – nightmare). So I got an appointment there in 3 days, brought there all documentation the government site ‘told me’ I should bring there, but then they said to me they have to check all documentation once more, and told me to come back in 2 weeks time. They said actually they would send me an appointment via e-mail, which of course did not happen, so i had to phone them once again. After 2 weeks time, I finally got my permit to drive with my mum or dad, but it was waste anyway, as I got my driver’s license in a week from that anyway. So, to conclude, UE Šk.Loka is fairly good, got all done there that I could, but UE LJ is the biggest bloody s***hole one can imagine. And everyone I know say the same thing.

  4. Thanks for your blog post, a very interesting read.

    I’m pretty sure the ticketing system in Ljubljana’s UE has been broken since at least 2014, when I last visited it.

    As a native I am absolutely baffled at the inefficiency/incompetence of our admin system and dread any interaction with it. The varying degrees of help/service you’re able to get depending on location is also something I can’t understand. As if they’re not all working according to the same laws…

    Sadly digitalisation or “digitalna preobrazba” is still very very far away. Too many projects and too many different contractors for each, meaning no communication/disjointed systems, doubled databases with not enough/too much data, GDPR issues, support issues, employee issues.

    It’s sad that such a beautiful country is being run by selectively blind/deaf people that are only looking to line their own pockets. “Banana Republika”.

  5. Haha! Thanks for sharing your UE nightmare Jan! Yes – that sounds like classic UE – being sent back and forth and round and round. Well done for getting it sorted in the end though – and enjoy your newfound freedom on the road.

  6. Thanks Sugma – it is quite baffling to me also! Especially when many private businesses in Slovenia have adopted digital systems which work pretty well. I can only hope that with time the digital revolution does arrive at the UE…

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