Friday, May 02, 2008

Passports and visa

Foreign travel is always an exciting experience for people who have not gone outside their country yet, or for those who are visiting another foreign country for the first time. The anticipation and the joy of seeing other places and people, other culture is itself a source of joy and excitement.

For people who travel a lot though, foreign travel is a drudgery, a stressful experience, except when attending an important meeting or conference.

Below are 2 rather emergency and weird cases that I have experienced.

(1) Has passport but no visa yet, and flying the following day!

This happened to me sometime in October 2006. I was going to Seoul, S. Korea to attend the 2nd Asia-Pacific Taxpayers Union (APTU) meeting. Although I have been to Seoul twice in the past, the meeting was something new to me. In addition, the organizers – the Korea Taxpayers Association – would pay for my hotel, plane fare and other expenses, so it was a very attractive opportunity and I didn’t want that opportunity to pass. But they gave that offer rather belatedly, only a few days before the meeting, so had to get a Korean visa very quick.

I had a valid passport, a plane reservation already but could not pay it yet because I still have to wait if the Korean embassy will give me a visa.

I got my visa around 3pm, immediately informed my travel agent, got my e-ticket 5pm, and flew the following morning!

(2) Has visa but no passport, and flying the following day!

This happened to me last April. I was going to Atlanta, Georgia, USA to attend the Liberty Forum sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation A week before my flight, my passport accidentally got wet. My two friends from 2 separate travel agencies have the same opinion: I need to get a new passport, otherwise, it’s possible that I may be denied departure at Manila airport, or be denied entry at the US immigration.

With a formal invite and a paid e-ticket, I looked for friends of friends who are working at the DFA. The regular issuance of a new machine-readable passport is 14 working days. An overtime issuance is 7 working days. I wanted my new passport to be issued preferably in 2 working days!

The DFA personnel that I talked to said it’s impossible. They narrated a father who has to leave quickly to attend to a son who will be beheaded somewhere in the Middle East, and the man still got his passport in 4-5 working days!

Have to cancel my scheduled flight on April 21 morning, and hoped that my new passport will be released on April 23, even though the scheduled release is April 24 (5 working days). My trip was getting hopeless as even though I can get my new passport soon, all Northwest flights were full. One option was to take the Philippine Airlines (PAL) for a Manila-SFO or LA flight, then connecting flight to Atlanta via Delta Air. But this will be an expensive flight, about $2,100+ including taxes for a return ticket, while my Northwest promo fare was only $1,560+ including taxes.

April 23, I went to the DFA to see – at a slim possibility – that my new passport will be issued that afternoon. I arrived at the Passport Director’s office around 2:30pm, and was so surprised to learn that my new passport is already available! Upon holding it, I immediately called up my travel agent for a possible slot in Northwest (in case one passenger will cancel) the following day, or with PAL that same night. An hour later, my travel agent texted me that indeed, one passenger, just one, cancelled his/her flight, so I will be able to get in!

So here’s how it went:April 23, I got my new passport at 2:30pm, 3:30pm got a lone slot in Northwest, received my new e-ticket at 6:30pm, and flew the April 24, 8am flight!

That trip though, was very long and tiring. I entered NAIA April 24, 5am (3 hours before scheduled departure), flew Manila-Narita-Detroit-Atlanta (3 plane transfers) and got out of Atlanta airport around 6:30am April 25 Manila time, or a total of 25 ½ hours!

Since it was my first time to see Atlanta, the tiredness was erased when I finally saw the Atlanta airport, got out and saw the city.

Yeah, the pain and gain of foreign travel!