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Visa is a Four Letter Word

Visas annoy me. I have to pay a country for the right to come visit, although I’ll be spending a lot more money when I get there. Plus, often I have to deal with a bunch of bureaucracy to do so. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve no objection to a country deciding to keep out people they see as undesirables, but often they don’t seem to bother with those kinds of checks. I’m particularly annoyed by countries that require a “Letter of Invitation” – it’s just a way for their travel agencies to make money. And then places like Russia require a hotel reservation ahead of time for every night of your stay!

I’m lucky that I have dual UK and US citizenship since visa costs for US citizens have gone up to partially match the cost of getting a visa to visit the US. I say partially, because it doesn’t cover the cost of showing up in person at a US embassy which may be hundreds of miles from the applicant’s home. So, although I enter and leave the US on my US passport, I often do the rest of the trip on my UK passport. It would certainly not make much sense to enter the UK, or anywhere else in the EU, on my US passport.

I’ll be visiting six countries on this trip, and all of them except Georgia require a visa for entry. But all of those except Syria will issue a visa on arrival, sometimes more cheaply than in advance. Syria, however, insists that if they have an embassy in your country, that you get a visa from that embassy in advance. (No US citizens applying for visas in France, say!) I thought it might create difficulties if I applied in the US for a visa for my UK passport, so I will be doing the whole of this trip on my US passport.

Since it wasn’t too clear that Syria was keen on US visitors, I took more than the usual care over my application, reading up on other people’s experiences on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree. Then I spent part of a partiularly hot Monday running around organizing everything. My printer had quit working, so I had to go to the library to print the application forms. Then I needed cash from the bank so I could buy a money order (for $131) from the Post Office. Luckily I still had some passport photos around (I replaced them the next time I went by the AAA office – for free, since I’m a member). I picked a hotel in Aleppo, my first stop, as my Syrian address. Then I took everything over to the nearest Fed Ex outlet and paid a surpising amount of money to get the package to Washington and back.

I expected it would be at least two weeks, if not six, before I saw my passport again. I didn’t even bother to check the tracking numbers. But Wednesday afternoon, just 48 hours later, I looked up from the computer to see the Fed Ex van drawing up outside my house! Yes, the Syrian embassy managed the fastest visa turnround I’ve seen aside from the Mongolian embassy in Moscow, which issued my visa while I waited.

I’m not sure whether they’ve gotten a lot more efficient, or there are very few applicants. Either way, I was impressed.

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