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Travel: This May Sound All Greek To You But…

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Being from Nepal, and having only a Nepalese passport for a travel document, has meant hassles left and right with traveling, getting jobs, and some downright absurd, farcical, ridiculous experiences.

The following is a slightly modified version of a note I published on my Facebook page way back in March 8, 2008, when I was living and working in Azerbaijan.

In preparation for a visit to Greece, I had written to the Greek embassy for information on the requirements for a tourist visa for a Nepalese passport holder. In response the embassy wrote I needed to provide

“[…]the following

  • Passport (valid for 6 months after the return date)
  • Invitation Letter (official invitation from inviting party to be faxed to [fax #])
  • Letter from work
  • 2 photos 35×45 no older than 6 months) in white background
  • Filled in application form
  • Copy of credit card
  • Bank statement/Proof of funds (about 100 euro per day of a trip)
  • Issued ticket (round trip original ticket)
  • Hotel booking
  • Copy of Identification card
  • Medical Insurance

It takes a week to proceed [sic].

Visa fee 60 Euro; The payment should be made in AZN at a rate set by Baku National Bank currency exchange on the day of payment)

Please kindly note your physical presence is required.”

I had no reason to question any of that since, as recently as the beginning of February, applying for another Shengen visa, I had submitted the same set of documents at the French Embassy and had gotten the visa within a week.

(The “official invitation” turned out to be all Greek to Christina…my Greek friend, who I was visiting! She ended up calling the embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan from Athens to get more details.)

To make a long story short, I went to the embassy armed with all that, last Tuesday, on March 5…to find

  • firstly that they don’t require most of the documents;
  • secondly the cost of lodging the application was US$95.00 to be paid in US dollars (I shouldn’t complain; the last time I applied for an American visa, the cost of having the privilege of filing the application was US$65, and the visa itself an additional US$110);
  • thirdly to find that the application would have to be sent to Greece for the decision, and as such it might not arrive on time for my departure date of March 15!!

And, “Could I request a multiple entry visa?”

The answer: “No.”

Sounds like all Greek?! I have had worse, incomprehensible experiences with diplomatic missions representing developed countries–mostly the US, Europe and Australia–in the last 20 years of studying, traveling, living, and working mostly, ironically, in the US, Europe and Australia!

Spring of 1996, having just accepted a position in Norway, and as per the Director’s suggestion, I filed my visa application in March, six months before I was expected to start work, namely the following August!

The application, it turned out, had to be sent all the way to Norway. (What’s new?!) But, when the decision finally came through, saying that it had been approved, it was already the middle of August, only a few days before I was scheduled to fly! You think that’s bad?! There’s more to the story, which I was to find out later!!

Several days before I was to fly out, the Director called and on finding out that I still didn’t have the visa, he had enlisted the help of a board member with some connections in the Norwegian government. It turned out that the Norwegian Government had decided NOT to issue the visa. Fair enough!

But here’s the mind boggling bit: they had just sat on the decision! Who knows how long it had been since they had made the decision, AND if they had ever intended to let me in on it! But such had been the circumstances.

Unusual?! Not really!! Makes you cringe? Makes you mad? It shouldn’t because…

Here’s one that’s even worse…about the experience of a very good Nepalese friend of mine. He applied for a Danish visa in Kathmandu, Nepal, which got sent to Denmark for a decision. Nothing unusual there. (You should know the drill by now when it comes to Nepalese and getting visas!) He had six months before his trip.

His travel date came and went…but still no word from the Danish embassy. (Of course, in the mean time, he had canceled all his plans.) When he didn’t show in Denmark, his Danish friend had called, and on finding that my friend had never heard back from the Danish authorities, the Dane had made a few phone calls. And here’s what he discovered.

The application hadn’t even been reviewed! No one had even bothered to look at it!! The whole application, with all the dozen different supporting documents and paperwork, had just collected dust in Denmark, unworthy of even a glance from an official! …And there is more!

He actually did finally hear from them…twelve months after filing the application…six months after he was supposed to have traveled. And the news…was not good! They regretted to inform him that his application had been unsuccessful!

And here is another farce! April 2005, my application for an Australian tourist visa was denied on the grounds that my intention to visit Australia was “not genuine.” In other words, they believed that I would stay behind illegally. They sent me this two-page letter detailing everything that went into this decision, a decision, it turned out, based on a farcical and ridiculous assumption: my work permit and my passport belonged to two different people!

The only difference between the two had been the photo: the one on the passport showed me without my glasses while the one on the work permit with them. The work permit of course was for the professional job of an International Science Teacher with a full-time teaching position at an international school in Lilongwe, Malawi. What’s more, my passport had a work visa for the United Kingdom, valid until June 2008, three years down the road!

And of course the application consisted of a host of other supporting documents, such as a letter from the school, invitation letter from the person I was visiting in Australia, bank statements etc. to prove that I was a professional with enough money to pay for my travels etc. etc. etc.

Let’s step back and assume for argument’s sake that the two pieces of documents belonged to two different people.

According to their logic, based on the work permit, I was a professional international teacher, with a full-time job in the country of residence, who would choose to live illegally in Australia, to work as a menial laborer.

Or, based on my passport, I was an international teacher/traveler with a passport containing visa stamps to a number of different countries AND a work permit for the UK valid until 2008, applying to go to Australia for a 8-week holiday in 2005 to remain there illegally. That doesn’t make sense, right?

Wrong!

All of that is besides the point! (This is after all a country which–back in 1998-99, when applying for a student visa–required me to get a pre-visa approval from the diplomatic mission BEFORE I could file the proper visa application!! But then again, this is a country which, until the second half of the last century–I am tempted to say until 1973–barred black Africans from visiting the country or migrating into the country, forget which, or if both! They used to have what was called a ‘White Australia’ policy.)

And yet another ridiculous one! Fall 1994, applying for the Spanish visa, in the city of Milan, Italy I ended up having to cash out my American dollar travelers’ checks into Lira–Italian currency at the time–to buy back the same currency!

At the Embassy, they wouldn’t accept the travelers’ checks as documentary proof of availability of funds, nor would they accept my bank statements, nor my credit card. That I indeed had enough money to pay for my stay in Spain was, of course, besides the point!

They asked for a very very specific piece of evidence: a bank receipt showing evidence of having exchanged Lira into dollars! For various reasons, too long to explain here, it turned out, the only option left for me was to cash out my American-dollar travellers’ checks into Lira to buy dollars just to fulfill the requirement!

And the Shengan visa for France that I made it sound like a walk in the park at the beginning of this post…the visa that took more than two weeks to get all the documents ready for, the visa that involved time and efforts from about half a dozen different people, the visa I needed to be able to travel to France to attend a workshop in Paris…yes I got it…without much of a hassle apart from all that.

It was exactly the number of days I asked for too: five days!! Pardon me if I sound like I am complaining!

They were very generous in other ways too. (I should give credit where due!) They gave me a multiple entry visa! So, if I had had the sudden urge to nip over to…say Belgium or Germany…in the middle of the workshop, for whatever reason, or for a night, I could have. Really generous of them! Really!!

That’s all the Greek I can dish out for now…needless to say I have more! But, next time I’ll give you all some Chinese!

 

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2 comments to Travel: This May Sound All Greek To You But…

  • Yarram

    I realize this is an older post, but be aware that once you are *in* the Schengen zone, you are free to travel anywhere within the Schengen zone – the whole zone is visa-free internal travel. One caveat: as recent politics have demonstrated in embarrassing abundance, it’s possible to “temporarily” close borders between Schengen countries, so consider the political situation carefully if you are a non-Schengen citizen travelling between Schengen countries. (Travel between Belgium, Germany, and France seems safe… for now.)

    • Hey Yarram, yes I am aware of that. As a matter of fact, way back in the Spring of 2004, when I was based in London, I travelled to continental Europe with a Schengen visa I got at the French embassy. In addition to visiting France, I also travelled to Belgium that time around without any problem!

      However, when I travelled to Greece in 2008, the authorities gave me the impression that I couldn’t go anywhere else except Greece. I may have had a long layover in another country but immigrations wouldn’t let me leave the airport, or something like that. I don’t remember the details but I distinctly remember thinking, “But I have a Schengen visa!”

      The issue may have been my Nepalese passport! 🙂

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