What is it?

Bureaucracy refers to the official rules and procedures used by officials (= bureaucrats) to

control an organisation or country. For many people it is a negative word as it often means unnecessary rules, long waits, and lots of documents and forms.


When you need to obtain (= get) or show documents, it is important that you know the names of them. Here are some important ones:

passport identity card: a card with your name, date of birth and photo to show who you are. Great Britain is one of the few countries where people still do not have identity cards, driving licence: the official document which permits you to drive on public roads, visa: this gives you permission to enter, pass through or leave a country, certificates: official pieces of paper stating certain facts, e.g. a birth certificate gives facts about your birth, and exam certificates state you have passed certain exams.

Officials often check (= look at and examine) your documents, e.g. the police may check your driving licence; passport officials may check your identity card.

Some of these documents are for a fixed period of time, e.g. a visa may be for six months. At the end of that time, your visa runs out (infml) / expires (fml) (= it finishes / comes to an end). If you want to stay in the country you must renew it (= have a new one for a further period of time). You can renew a visa, a passport, a membership card for a club, etc.


There are also situations where you need to fill in (= complete) forms. Here are some: landing card: a form you may have to fill in when you enter another country, enrolment form: a form you often fill in when you do a course, go to a school or college, etc. It may also be called a registration form, application form: a form to write details of yourself, often when applying for a job.

With almost all forms, you will need to sign them (= write your signature), e.g:

signed XYZ

Formal language

Here are some formal written expressions and their spoken English meanings.


-date of birth = When were you born?

-country of origin = Where do you come from?

-marital status = Are you single or married?

-date of arrival = When did you arrive?

-date of departure = When are you leaving?(or when did you leave?)

Bureaucratic problems:

We often associate bureaucracy with problems. For example, you may have to queue (v, n) (= wait in a line) to get an official piece of paper or have it stamped.