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On Stamps

Posted by on in Stories From The Field
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So here's a topic that will look very familiar to anyone who's lived in the post-Soviet space but seem totally nuts to everyone else. Stamps - what are they for? Well in Moldova the answer is "literally everything." I first came in contact with this when I went to Kazakhstan as an English teacher and my packing list included "stamps for grading papers." My first thought was "I thought I was going to be teaching high school - why do I need smiley face stamps?!" The reasoning is because no matter how silly looking the stamp they make things "look official."

To understand this you need a little background on how things become "official" here vs. in the states. In America your signature is your bond. Furthermore your word can be your bond in contract law if it is deemed a verbal contract. I am not a lawyer but the gist is that in the US agreements can range from silly-informal to super formal. In Moldova they are always super formal. In theory this is to "control" the process ("control" being a translation from Russian for something like "oversight on steroids") and to prevent fraud and forgery. In practice this is a system of red tape unrivaled by even the darkest fears of government fearing anarchists. It is literally like buying shotguns to kill flies. 



not only is this a real product but you too can be killing flies
with a shotgun for the low price of $39.95. I fucking love America.


So we get to stamps here because every legal entity must have one. In order for something to be official it MUST be stamped and signed by the company administrator (post on administrators coming soon). This is not just true of contracts and such but literally EVERYTHING. For a restaurant menu to be official every single page must be stamped with the company stamp. Every one. For a receipt for goods your company buys, say for example onions, you not only need their company's stamp confirming the sale but you also need to stamp it confirming that you purchased it (this is called a "factura fiscal" and will get it's own post later). In order to open a bank account here they needed to print off some ungodly document that actually required 27 stamps (yes I counted). The crazy part? It was an internal document. It wasn't even for us. They stamped it 27 times and put it in a drawer. I imagine that you're beginning to see that this system is a little "troubled."


In the interest of keeping this blog constructive and semi-helpful here are a few practical changes in your thinking that need to occur in order to do business here. These are the primary ones as I see them but feel free to add thoughts in the comments.

1.) Never leave the house without the stamp

It is as important as wearing pants so in the interest of sense (and decency) forget neither. That example about buying onions? not made up. You really need the stamp for everything. The question of "who is actually empowered to wield this powerful tool" is something I will write on later. 

2.) Anything can become official with a big enough stamp

Anything. A careful read of my past posts will show that stamps trump almost anything else (top examples are the US Embassy Affidavit in place of a criminal background check for the visa and Appostilles that technically only certify the identity of the signer being taken in Moldova to certify the contents of documents). The problem is that without a stamp things cannot be official here. For a Moldovan SRL this is easy. Follow step 1 and always have the stamp. For an American company needing to do business here (my Virginia LLC) this is a problem. Most officials kinda understand that American company's don't have stamps but they don't really trust it. Partly this is conscious and partly it is subconscious. Either way it is a solvable problem. You just create a stamp for yourself. Here is a picture of the stamp created by our corporate embosser purchased by the nice people at Ideal.


so beautiful I might cry...

In America this stamp has no legal significance whatsoever (you could empower it but it's all very old school). In Moldova however it turns heads. Not only does it actually emboss the paper instead of a simple ink stamp but take a look how it compares to the plastic Moldovan stamp:


yes the other items on my desk are a knife, duct tape and a tape measure. I like projects


This big metal thing is intimidating here. Think in these terms, as a teacher in a school the grade I give doesn't derive as much authority from the fact that I'm the teacher as it does from the fact that I stamped it with a ---- stamp. Now realize that my company stamp is metal and imprints paper. This is psychological warfare and this stamp is a big big weapon. 


3.) Expect this process to cause countless delays and hidden costs 

That first image at the intro to this entry is how official document packets are bound here. There is this fine thread that they tie through and then stamp so that you know it's original. That particular example is our company's operating agreement but they do this for many many things. When we got documents translated they had to be bound by the notary like this. Even xeroxes aren't deemed original without a stamp. You literally need to go to a notary for an "original copy" xerox. I know this is done in the states too at times but here is it constant. Furthermore not everyone has stamping authority so if you need to buy those onions and there's no one there to stamp your receipt you aren't getting one. You'll need to come back on another day. Imagine the delays this causes - not to mention the fees. It's death by a thousand cuts because you need to pay everyone for this. The amounts are typically small but with how constant it is they build up. Oh, and you want to get an original copy of a company document? That's 10 lei for the copy + you need to come back tuesday for a stamped receipt certifying that you purchased the original stamped document. 



To conclude I'll leave you all with this lovely stamp:



if only absolute athority could be wielded with such mundane items in America... 




Tagged in: Bureaucracy Stamps
(Site Admin, Entrepreneur, Contributor)
David is a native of the great Commonwealth of Virginia and lived there through high school in Fairfax County. After high school he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia. During his studies his traveled to Singapore for a semester and gained a respect and love for traveling and immersing in different cultures. After graduation David joined the United States Peace Corps and was posted first in Kazakhstan as an English Teacher and later in Moldova as a Community and Organizational Development Consultant.

When not working on his startup David can be found maintaining various web based side projects (check out: salutmoldova.org) and working on his 1986 Lada Жигули 2101 named Надя (Nadia).


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Guest Wednesday, 14 April 2021