In my three years of travel and 30+ countries visited, I have exceptionally not collected any visa horror stories. I guess I’ve been lucky. Sure, there were a few scares of impending cavity searches on my way to Israel, or cases of bribery and fake “mandatory” medical examinations (seriously, do the all the visa tell tales have to pertain to body violation?) on my way to Cambodia. But amongst all the uncertainties – and the “don’t mention you’re a blogger” on the way to the Indian embassy – I have been one of the few lucky ducks to not have any of my travels go awry because of a visa SNAFU.
Some of my fellow travel bloggers haven’t been so lucky, however. And when Canadian visa service company Sherpa contacted me asking to share some visa horror stories, I first did a little smug shimmy and thought we could all have a chuckle at others’ misfortune. Sorry, folks!
IRAN FROM VISA TROUBLE
Visiting Iran had been my dream for a long time. When I was planning my annual visit to Armenia, I figured since I would be so close, why not go to Iran too. The problem was that I had to get a visa in advance, as you can get a visa-on-arrival in Iran only at the airports and the journey from Yerevan to Tehran is overland. I hadn’t heard about anyone having problems with Iranian visas so, all optimistic, I went to the embassy in Warsaw to get mine. To my huge surprise, the nice lady who was dealing with applications didn’t take mine; instead, she called the consul to ask what to do. As it turned out, he didn’t really trust solo travelers going to Iran as – according to him – it’s not safe, I’d only have problems and he would be just too worried about me. The secretary tried to talk him into giving me a visa, but with no luck. Time was running out. I was leaving for Caucasus soon with only a one-way ticket and I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately the lady from the embassy came up with an idea. She called me and told me to go anyway, and if they asked me why I didn’t get a visa at the border, I should just say that I was sick when I should have done the paperwork and then it was too late to issue me with the papers. I booked my flight to Tehran right away! After landing in Iran, I anxiously approached the visa point. I was pretty shocked when I was asked only few routine questions and let straight through. Catastrophe averted!
– Kami from Kami and the rest of the world
I often travel to places that few people go, like Pakistan, which I wanted to visit independently, on a long weekend trip. But I needed a visa. There is an embassy in Singapore, and I filled the forms online and then went to submit them. The staff were quite surprised that I was going alone, as a tourist, to Pakistan. One of them was excited and happy, because they don’t get many (if any) tourists there, but he had a bit of a poker face. The paperwork was not enough and he asked me for additional documents, including a no-objection letter from my employer and a sponsor letter from someone in Pakistan who would care for my safety and wellbeing. My employer had no issues and I got the wife of a colleague to write me the endorsement letter stating that she would be responsible for my safety while in the country. I had to go to the embassy several times and finally managed to get the visa. What was perhaps funniest was the flight to Lahore, where, again, people were curious why I was going there. I spotted many passengers looking at me and commenting in Urdu. Eventually, a guy in the row in front gathered the courage to ask if I was going to Pakistan. I couldn’t imagine where else I would go, transiting via Lahore. He then continued to inquire if I was working for an NGO or the UN. When I said I was going as a tourist, they all laughed in disbelief. I can only guess they thought I was a secret agent on a mission.
– Mar from Once in a Lifestyle Journey
Our trip started in Panama and was supposed to end in San Jose. We knew we could visit both countries freely as the Ukrainian government had recently agreed on a visa-free arrangement with Costa Rica, as long as you have a European Schengen visa. We did, so we weren’t at all worried – until our passports spent a suspiciously long time in the hands of border control. They asked to see our return tickets and a proof of sufficient funds. I had around $200 cash on me, which was not enough. My proposal to show online bank account statements were met by invitations to come inside the office. Here we were, sharing a bench with others who I could only assume were illegal trespassers. After waiting for a long time in confusion, an officer finally volunteered to see my online bank statements. Although he let me believe he would escort us to an ATM so I could withdraw cash to prove I had funds for travel, we were unknowingly walking back to Panama’s border with a “refusal to enter Costa Rica” stamped in our passports. The Costa Rican guards didn’t bother explaining anything, while Panama’s officers only shrugged their shoulders and advised us to try again tomorrow. After spending a night in the middle of nowhere, we went back to the border – this time with lots of cash. Our passports spent another hour with Costa Rican border patrol, but we were finally allowed to enter – strangely without any questions about our funds.
– Lena from Travel Monkey
I went to the Chinese embassy eight days before departure to China and I was told I needed an appointment to get a visa. The closest appointment was in three weeks. At that point, I started to panic because I needed to get my visa to travel the following Saturday. They mentioned there were agencies that could get the visa done quicker. I went home and I googled for an hour. I called a couple of these agencies. The prices of the visa varied significantly between them. In the end, I decided to go with one near my house. I arrived at a building. A Chinese guy came downstairs, took my passport and then disappeared. I was suspicious as it was clearly not a legitimate office or a travel agency; but this was my only chance and a risk I had to take. A week later, I went back and to my great surprise I received my passport with a visa, albeit at a higher cost than at the embassy. I guess I was lucky.
– Barbara from Jet-Settera
Our all-time visa horror story had to be during our travels through Nepal, while trying to get an Indian tourist visa (btw here are some hints on what to do if you overstay a tourist visa). It started innocently enough, when we queued all day at the Indian visa office, only to be told we could only have two months’ access (when we were supposed to have six). We argued with the bureaucrat, and he told us to come back in two weeks’ time. Two weeks! The trekking season had long finished in Nepal at that time, and all but the hardcore had left the city. Two weeks finally passed and we went back to the visa office, where we were told by the same gentleman that he could give us an extra month, which still wasn’t good enough for us. He told us to come back in another two weeks! Winter was kicking in big-time at this point, and what we didn’t realise was that Kathmandu has 16-hour power cuts in the winter time — no hot showers, and long, dark, miserable nights. When we went back, and he must have taken pity on us (or he just wanted a bribe) — because we eventually got our six months!
– Stu from Am I Nearly There Yet
Have you got any visa horror stories? I want to to hear them! For everyone else, whatever whacky destinations you’re dreaming up for your next big solo or group adventure, make sure to check out Sherpa so you don’t have to be another number on this page and avoid a disaster.
Disclosure: this is a sponsored post