Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh the Stress

Okay, so here is the full story of probably the most stressful week of my life:

It's no secret that visas terrify me a little. The fact that you spend a fortune booking a trip and then have to apply for visas, which apparently should be a mere technicality but to be honest, your holiday really does hinge on them, without them there are so many countries that you cannot visit with your little Green South African Passport.

The irony here is that I was never really too worried about my Russian visa, definitely more for my Chinese one (because I had read somewhere online that people had had a problem getting into China with a fake Polar Bear Capital of the World stamp from Churchill in their passport, it being an unofficial stamp in an official document and all) and the Mongolian one (sending my passport all the way to the UK & back had me nervous for this one). But as it turns out, the Russian one caused me more stress than any visa in my life had before.

I had my passport collected by the Visa Service company I was using (I have a lot to say about their customer service, but this is not the post for it!) on Tuesday afternoon and expected that my passport would be submitted to the Russian Embassy in Pretoria on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, a little before 10am, I called the Visa Service Company to confirm that all was in order and my passport had been submitted (yes, I was calling *them*, take note, it'll become a trend) only to hear the woman say "Oh, I was just about to phone you!". And then she proceeded to completely ruin my week by telling me that they'd been told that the Russian Embassy was no longer issuing visas for people leaving the country by Train. EXCUSE ME? Being that it is a legitimate way to travel and that this was, in fact, the way I was travelling, you can imagine my complete horror at the news. She then said that they could try submitting it and see if it got rejected. Um, NO. I promptly told her to get clarity on the issue before submitting my passport. There had to be a way to get a Russian visa, and she should find out exactly how.

But, based on her past effort levels, I went off to do some research of my own. There was no specific mention of not providing visas under these circumstances on the Russian Embassy's website, although it did request you include your return air ticket (which I had in my vast pile of submitted documentation, but it was departing from China). I figured already having my Mongolian & Chinese visas in my passport would count in my favour, but what I really needed to set my mind at ease was to speak to someone who could give me a straight answer. I tried calling the Russian Embassy in Pretoria continuously from 10am till their reception apparently closed at 11:30. Not a single time was my call even answered. It just rang and rang .... I sat in meetings with my phone attached to my ear listening to it ring, just desperately hoping for an answer.

My dad suggested phoning a few other Visa Service Companies, he was completely sure this woman had her facts wrong. One of the other companies I spoke to had never heard such a thing and another said it'd be fine but you may have to provide a copy of a train ticket. At this point I guess it made a little more sense ... If you were flying in but couldn't prove you were leaving because you were planning on buying a ticket once you were there, I can see how things might be trickier ... Not for other citizens who can travel the globe with ease, just for us, from South Africa, where as I have seen now, your Russian visa specifies the actual specific dates of your entry & exit of their country. Sigh. Panic stations.

The Visa Service woman also had no luck getting in touch with them ... and said she'd keep trying till 3pm. This is about where I really lost it telling her that even I knew the embassy reception had closed at 11:30 and of course she'd have no luck getting thru for the rest of the afternoon :P SIGH. Anyway, we decided that they would take my passport and documents to the embassy on Thursday and see if it was accepted for submission. I then got in touch with Real Russia (who were fabulous!) and managed to get further confirmation documentation which I mailed to the Visa Service Company.

I also decided then and there that I'd pay the extra R400 for speedy turnaround (1-3days instead of the usual 4-20days they offer). I wasn't having the stress of not knowing hanging over me for such a lengthy indefinite period of time.

Dad also suggested I try the Cape Town embassy, and one of the other Visa Service companies also told me they were easier to get hold of, but I had to wait till Thursday morning to try that (these Embassies sure have ridiculous hours!!). At 9am I promptly called and they answered almost immediately. But I was told to phone back in half an hour to speak to a Diplomat. This is about when my resolve cracked and I had to disappear for a bit and just let go of all the emotion and terror swirling inside me - lucky thing we have an empty office next door to ours.

But, things started to turn up from here ... I called back and spoke to the Russian Diplomat in Cape Town, who sounded like a lovely sweet man with a thick Russian accent who was very reassuring and made it sound like with all the documentation I had submitted there wouldn't be a problem. I also called the Visa Service company later in the day and heard that my application had been accepted for submission. And that they'd be able to collect it the following day. 1day turn around, completely worth that R400.

On Friday I was still a little jumpy, because until I actually had my passport back with the visa in it, I wasn't off the hook yet ... but I was definitely calmer based on how things were going and what I'd heard.

At 3pm (when I, again, called the Visa Service Company) I heard that they had collected my Passport and it had my Russian Visa inside it! Oh I can not even begin to explain the relief and elation. The best part was they managed to deliver it to me that same afternoon. I wouldn't spend my weekend worrying, I have everything I need for my trip, Holiday 2011, is a GO! Okay, I do still need travel insurance and foreign currency ... but those are easy! Oh, and my new camera ;)

I won't lie, I paged thru my passport about 100 times on Friday afternoon and think I showed the visas to everyone I work with ...


Anonymous said...

Getting visas give me the heebie jeebies, luckily I don't need to many thanks to my SA/British citizenship. I do need a Chinese one though.

HOWEVER, what really kills me is going through passport control and customs - I don't know what it is, I think that I may read too many books about drug dealers, but I always expect to be dragged off and sent to jail or back to where I came from. They just make me feel guilty about something.

Anyway, I'm glad that you are all sorted and look forward to reading all about it. It does seem like only yesterday that you were in South America though...

Marcia (123 blog) said...

Oh, i could feel my own stress rising......... eventually I'm going to have to get with the programme but I really hate getting visas. I like my travel somewhat spontaneous but they are making it very very hard to do that these days.

PS over from Louisa's blog :) Nice to meet you!

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