Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Travel Visa Quest ~ A ‘Keystone Cops’ Adventure

Our tale I tell you today would make for a plotline in those early 20th century silent movie misadventures of the incompetent “Keystone Cops”. I'll let you decide who has the starring role.

Or perhaps it could be a remake of another movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.

It is a behind-the-scenes reality story about travel . . . the quest for a travel visa.

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Not the credit card kind of visa but the kind issued by a government which allows a traveler into their country. (For you armchair travelers, more than 270 countries require visas which are one step beyond a passport.)  Many countries don’t require them. Requirements for them often depend on the nationality of the visitor and the country. Some are a quick formality – a few questions, small fee, stamp in your passport at the time of arrival.

Others, like India, have a process from hell.

Visiting India!


Map picture

My desire to visit India has never been shared by The Scout.  I was delighted that our upcoming cruise has two stops there: a day in Cochin and an overnight stop in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Even for such brief visits, one must have a tourist visa, though. So the process began – in January. . .

Skipping India?

India sets a time frame within which you can apply for a visa – not too early and not too late before your trip.  Other cruisers had left messages on user boards forewarning of the challenges ahead, but we'd thought it couldn't be 'that' bad, right?

Within days of submitting our applications The Scout and I were so frustrated, that we agreed we’d skip the visa and skip India. We'd simply stay on the ship.

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Oceania Cruise ship
That wasn't an option it turned out. As if reading our minds, a letter was sent by the cruise line to all passengers telling us that those who did not possess an India visa at the time of boarding in Bangkok, Thailand would be denied boarding.

No Indian visa.
No cruise.
Period.

Applying for the Visa

The application is a two-page on-line forms that seeks “Personal Particulars” (our education, religion, dates and places of birth); 'Passport details', 'Contact information' (where we live),'Family History' (parents names and birth places), details about countries we had previously visited, where we would visit in India and where we would stay there.

“Were your Grandfather/Grandmother (Paternal/Maternal) 
Pakistan Nationals or belong to Pakistan held area?”
               -- a question from the India visa application

A second form, a single page of questions still seemed more focused our grandparents -- who would likely be rivaling Moses at about 130 years old now -- than us. With my application, I had to submit a copy of our Marriage Certificate to show cause of my name change from birth name.

Then the antics began . . .


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Because we were working with a firm in Washington DC which handles visa processing for Oceania cruises, we packaged up our application and passports and sent them FedEx (recommended for the ability to track the package whereabouts). First mailing: $35

Two days later. . .the man at the agency who was handling our application called and said they couldn’t be submitted to the Indian Embassy, because:
* We had not included the zip code for the person we’d listed as an emergency contact – we’d given her phone number and address but ‘a zip code must be included’.
* The address of the cruise ship contact in India we’d written on two lines and it had to fill all three lines of the form.
And then there was the ‘problem with my passport:

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This is my old passport that was returned with the new one. . .hmmm, two pages. . .
“You need two blank pages” he said. “There are blank pages,” I answered, thinking back to my passport that was then in his possession. “India requires there be two blank pages facing each other like an open book – you don’t have them,” he replied. (The photo above shows my old passport that meets those requirements, but I digress. . .)

So a flurry of form-filling-out activity filled yet another morning - in February.  Forms, and more photos -- this time for a new passport, were sent to this Washington DC company that would handle getting my new passport.   Expedited passport renewal: $300 (part of that went to the company) and Fed Ex:  $35.


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They don't want you smiling either - no problem by that point
March 2nd my new passport was delivered to our door. We were ready. The corrected application forms were printed and new passport/visa photos were attached. We’d had more photos taken the day before. Before sending this packet though we got another email from ‘our man in Washington’ who’d forgotten to mention earlier that, “Mr. Smith is wearing glasses in his photo and India requires photos without glasses.”
So back for more photos. Packet sent to Fed Ex:  $35.

Two days later . . .”our man in Washington” called. He’d found a typo in one of our passport numbers on the application – India doesn’t allow any ink marks on the pages so he couldn’t correct it, we would need to complete the form again and resubmit it.  Fed Ex: $35  

DSCF1752Finally, ‘our man in Washington’ sent our passports and applications to the Indian Embassy in San Francisco to be reviewed.  Our passports complete with India visas were returned two weeks ago.

Whew! We can now board the ship.

However, we haven’t yet decided if we will get off in India or not. 


Tips on Travel visas:
* If you are considering a cruise or land tour check to see how many countries you’ll be visiting require visas. How involved is the application process?
*How much will they cost? Does the cruise line or tour company pay the cost or do you?
* Does the cruise line or tour company provide a company to handle the application process or are you on your own in dealing with – or finding – embassies that issue visas?
*If you are about to grab a great last-minute deal, do you have time to obtain the visa?
*Check your passport expiration date and number of pages you have left. Ask about ‘blank page’ requirements.
*For those renewing or obtaining U.S. passports, you now have an option to get a super-sized one with 54 pages at no extra cost (if you are traveling a lot to foreign countries, you’ll want to get it).

Thanks for your time! We will lighten up the subject matter next week when we show you the gem we found in Central Washington State!  Until then safe travels where ever you go.

Do you have any visa experiences - good or bad to share here? Please leave a comment below or shoot us an email and we'll share them for you.

We are linking up this week with an amazing group of bloggers at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

27 comments:

  1. Love this! Are you still saving money on your cruise after all these expenses? And I don't understand why we cannot smile for our passport photos anymore. The first one I obtained over 10 years ago, I smiled no problem...they encouraged it. When I got photos taken for passport renewal last year, the photographer was adamant...NO SMILING! Is that because we all get surly when we travel, and they can better recognize us?

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    1. Yes, we are still saving money! The cruise line is paying the cost of the India visa and the other countries, Oman, Jordan and Turkey are all relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. I was worried that I had too much smile on the photo I submitted for the passport but the guidelines said, 'okay if natural' guess that meant don't be too happy!

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  2. Hello Jackie and Joel,

    This is quite the ordeal for visas. How frustrating it must be. Do you also need vaccinations for visiting India?
    Enjoy your cruise and I look forward to hearing all about it.

    Happy Easter

    Helen x

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Helen and good wishes to you for a Happy Easter as well. Will you be in the US or your other home?

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  3. Incredible... It must be an adventure just to think of all the issues that can be encountered... or the travel itself is becoming more complex while trying to find out what you actually need to do for going... Wow, it is a too complex problem to be fixed without worry or concerning of too many travel conditions, lots of expenses and a huge amount of frustration!! It scares me the thought of travelling and not knowing that everything is almost ok...
    I look forward to read about your amazing cruise! Happy Springtime!

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    1. Thanks for the springtime wishes, Alexa, the same good wishes to you. It would be good if cruise lines and tour companies had a section for required documents and immunizations for some of these longer itineraries. (Of course if they did, we'd likely not have signed up! ;-) ) Happy Easter to you!

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  4. Phew....
    We Indian passport holders are used to filling forms for visae as we need to them for almost any country we go too :)
    However, I really hope you disembark In Mumbai as it is a happening city! Ask your tour guide to take you to Girgaum (old part of Mumbai) and Mumbadevi temple area if possible as these places are generally not on the tourists list. Actually there is plenty more interesting stuff to see in Mumbai but you will be here just for a night... Anyways have a happy cruise!! Sorry to read about your 'experience' in obtaining our visa.
    Cheers!!

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    1. Thanks so much for the tips! We will get off in Mumbai but are thinking a tour might be the best way to see the city. Any recommendations for local tour operators?

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  5. Finally! Well, it all sounds waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to dizzying for me to follow at the moment, (bad headache as I type), but I gather you are on your way. Have a lovely time, my friends!

    Happy sailing and April and Easter!

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. I wanted to write a shorter version of that post, Poppy, about half way through the process but Joel said I was to do nothing that might jeopardize that application after we'd spent (at that time!) so much time on it!. Hope the post wasn't the cause of your headache. Happy April and almost Easter to you as well!

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  6. What a pain in the you know what. Have to keep all this in mind for future ideas about India. Glad I don't need a visa for South Africa, unless I plan to stay more than 3 months. Have a great adventure.

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    1. It was for sure a pain in the posterior, Gaelyn. I am also glad Greece doesn't require visas! Thanks for the visit - Happy Easter weekend to you!

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  7. Very complicated situation.. but the views sure are pretty!

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    1. Hi Laura, So nice to see you among our followers! Thanks so much and hope to see your comments often here. Happy weekend to you!!

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  8. Oh my gosh! What an utter gong show. It sounds so frustrating and tiresome. I hope that you can have some beautiful moments in India to make up for it. XO

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    1. Gong Show - that's the term I needed to use with this. Hadn't thought of that in ages, but it fits so perfectly!! Happy weekend and Happy Easter to you and Bear! hugs J. xx

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  9. Oh I would do be getting off in India, what an amazing opportunity. It is a country I have always wanted to visit

    Mollyxxx

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    1. Oh we will get off, Molly. I can't miss any ports of call no matter how irritated I am with the red tape involved in getting to see them. I'll report back after doing so! Hugs to you. Jackie

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  10. I can't believe the craziness of this! It did make for a good story, though! Hope you do get off in India after all this!

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    1. Guess it would be silly to go through all that and then not get off, right Amy? Thanks much for the comment and visit - always appreciated!

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  11. Yikes. I've heard similar stories re: India. Glad it worked out. For US readers, it's a good idea to always opt for the 54-pg passport when renewing. I ran into a problem once of running out of pages, and having about 45min to get extra pages added to meet a deadline. Luckily the two embassies in question were neighbors. :)

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    1. I had read where some have requested the bigger passports and then not gotten them so I was relieved when my 'handbook' sized document arrived, Bob. Yes, you were lucky to say the least!!!

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  12. Hi Jackie, sorry to hear about your very frustrating Indian visa experience. I guess that's the tendency if you have to apply remotely. We're lucky to have a Indian Consulate here in NY and we applied for our visa directly. It was an easy process for us but I remember two applicants who were given a very hard time (and their application even denied I think) because they had family connections in Pakistan.
    Enjoy your cruise and your time in India. It wll be an intense experience but I know you can handle it.

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  13. I can't believe you were able to tell this story with a sense of humor. I can only imagine the level of frustration you were feeling and that was underscored by (some) of your pictures. I laughed when I saw your comment about not smiling! Bon Voyae!

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  14. WOW...your story brought my anxiety hives. Perhaps this is why I have never really had a huge urge to go to India.! After all of this, I do hope you get off and enjoy some of the sights and sounds India has to offer. Enjoy your trip! Thanks for linking up this week! :)

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  15. Well, now you definitely have to get off the boat in India to make all this effort worthwhile. We had a nightmare of a time getting visas for China while we were living in Malaysia. The short version of my story is -- We applied one month ahead of time; It was rejected. We had to do renew our Malaysian visa before we could re-apply for China because I think China was concerned that Malaysia may not take us back. We re-applied for China and had to, at that point, pay the expedited fee. We got our passports back in hand less than 24 hours before our flight departed. I didn't even have the heart to start packing in case if it was all cancelled. All I could think about was all that tour money and Chinese airline tickets we had already paid for. Thank goodness it worked out. Have a good cruise!

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  16. Wow! What an adventure...and the cruise hadn't even started. I can't wait to hear what you think of India...As always, thanks for linking up with us at #wkendtravelinspiration!

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