For my current trip, I’ve needed to get several visa. Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I gave up on Belarus. Each takes time, potentially requires invites, always requires money and always requires paperwork. Visas have the potential to mess up travel plans, turning good future into bad, fantastic holidays into stories of woe.
And as such, they don’t need to be. Here are some thoughts I had while sorting out the latest batch of visas.
1) Requiring invites
Russia, the Ukraine, the ‘stans – many of these require not only a visa, but for you to be officially invited by someone inside the country – ie you need someone specific to visit. Now as a Kiwi I don’t know that many Uzbekistan citizens. Fortunately there’s an entire industry that has sprung up around this – and you can pay companies in said countries to send you an invite. It borders on ridiculous.
Solution: Charge more for the visa, and don’t require an invite. Result – the money goes to the government of the country!
2) Paying for the visas
I’ve sent cheques, transferred money, and had to go to a specific bank in a different suburb in the middle of a strange city, just to pay for my visa. How hard is it to have an online payment system, like the US, or take cash/card at the consulate?
Solution: Take payment onsite, and charge an extra $2 for processing, we’ll pay it!
3) Variable processing
It happens when on a deadline or running out of time that you need that visa to go through quickly. 10 working days just isn’t fast enough. Fortunately for you, for an extra $100 – they can process it tomorrow! Money magically makes things happen faster, hooray!
Solution: Flat rate, hire more staff, and process all visas faster, you slackers. If Uzbekistan can do it while I wait, so can you, Russia!
4) Mountains of paperwork
While filling out a 3 page visa application, I’d ticked one box wrong – and needed to make a change. Can’t just cross it out tho – they require you to fill out the entire document again. Except this time with slightly different questions to the old form. And some you don’t have the answer to as it wasn’t in the list of required information you diligently printed off beforehand. And all I want to do is come see your country! I understand for work permits or medical trips it may be necessary, but for tourism?
Solution: Scan the passport (they have chips now!) and let me tick the ‘tourist’ box, and list of known places I’ll visit. Which brings us to…
5) Definitive answers
Sometimes you don’t know the answer and won’t until you’re in the country. First port of call in Kazakhstan? Depends on my last in Russia. Vehicle / flight number? I don’t even know if it’s bus or train! And I could put a list of desired cities, but that is almost certainly going to change. And have to love that ‘address while in destination’ field – what, just one hostel in all of the USA?
Solution: Have an *optional* section. If we know the answers we’ll put them in and you can get your hands on data that is just going in a drawer anyway, and if not, it won’t bother either of us.
6) Compulsory Registration
Here’s a great one Russia is famous for, but is not alone in doing. In Russia – every few days you’re required to pay to register your location and accommodation details. Now at first this sounds like a genius money-making scheme. But apparently the real reason is to track illegal immigrants – specifically from countries like China or North Korea.
Solution: Just make it compulsory for certain passports. And before you claim discrimination, remember different passports are treated differently anyway, almost no matter where you travel.
When it comes down to it, tourism helps the country immensely. Making it easier for tourists to visit a country means it’s more likely they’ll come and spend their hard earned money in your country. You may have concerns and checks you want to do, but making it easy for the traveller to complete the process is in the country’s interest too!
What’s your worst travel visa story? Let us know in the comments.
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